December 09, 2011, 10:05 AM — In a project that has taken longer than company engineers anticipated, Google is rolling out IPv6 across its entire internal employee network.
Google network engineer Irena Nikolova discussed the company-wide implementation at the Usenix Large Installation System Administration (LISA) conference, being held this week in Boston. There, she shared some lessons that other organizations might benefit from as they migrate their own networks to the next generation Internet Protocol.
From the experience, Google has learned that an IPv6 migration involves more than just updating the software and hardware. It also requires buy-in from management and staff, particularly administrators who already are juggling too many tasks. And, for early adopters, it requires a lot of work with vendors to get them to fix buggy and still-unfinished code. "We should not expect something to work just because it is declared supported," the paper accompanying the presentation concluded.
"I think everyone who has tried to migrate to IPv6 has run into the same problems we have," Nikolova said.
The project, which has been under way for about four years, turned out to be a larger endeavor than the engineering team had anticipated. It is only half way finished. But the company has made significant gains in this time. About 95 percent of Google's engineers now have IPv6 access on their desks. Eventually, the company plans to have an IPv6-only network.
The project was started in 2008 by a small group of Google engineers, some of whom worked on it in the 20 percent of their work time that Google allots for its engineers to pursue their own pet projects. The goal was "IPv6 everywhere," Nikolova said.
Part of the interest in the upgrade was practical. Even though it was a private network, Google's internal network used public IP addresses, and Google was running out of internal IPv4 addresses. Also, Google engineers were developing IPv6 versions of Google's own tools and applications and needed to test this software internally before releasing it to the public.
Lastly, Google engineers realized they faced a chicken-and-egg problem with deploying IPv6. Like many organizations, the company has been slow to adopt IPv6 due to the lack of third party applications running on IPv6, which, in turn, are scarce because few organizations run IPv6 networks.