Feature: Are we ready for IPv6?

Internet addresses are running out. What's New Zealand doing about it?

It’s no news that the pool of available Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses is running out. Thanks to the internet growing rapidly with increased broadband uptake, legacy over-allocations of blocks and with no effort to conserve remaining routable IPv4 address space, estimates say by 2011, or as early as the end of next year, none will be left.

Moving to IPv6 with its close to inexhaustible 128-bit address space is the natural solution to IPv4 address wells running dry, but it’s not a simple migration. IPv6 comes with new features that introduce complexity by themselves, and the next-generation Internet Protocol is only slowly being introduced around the world.

How is .nz doing in the IPv6 stakes? Computerworld spoke to some of the major internet players, to find out how ready the country is for the time when IPv4 addresses are no longer available.

InternetNZ: IPv6 not as high a priority as broadband

Being ready for IPv6 is “imperative if you want to reach all of the internet”, says executive director Keith Davidson of InternetNZ. Pockets of “IPv6 only” internet are emerging, Davidson says, especially in populous countries such China and India, and IPv4 networks cannot directly reach these.

To further the uptake of IPv6, InternetNZ is leading by example by being an early adopter of the protocol. The root .nz country top-level domain is IPv6-capable already for instance.

“We have already added IPv6 to the .nz name servers around two years ago, so we are ready,” Davidson says and adds that .nz root has been serving IPv6 requests for more than a year.

However, with only FX Networks and the academic KAREN network offering IPv6 connectivity in New Zealand, the traffic levels are low on the new protocol and mainly from inside the country, Davidson says.

InternetNZ is also working hard with the IPv6 Steering Group towards holding IPv6 huis in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in August to encourage the development and commitment to deployment roadmap, Davidson says.

Members of the NZ IPv6 Steering Group include telco equipment suppliers Alcatel-Lucent, Allied Telesis, Cisco and Juniper as well as network operators Kordia/Orcon, Telecom, TelstraClear, Vodafone, FX Networks and WorldxChange. Industry organisations Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum and ISPANZ are also represented, ditto the government through the Ministry of Economic Development (MED).

Furthermore, InternetNZ has secured internet legend Vint Cerf for a New Zealand visit to promote the IPv6 huis and roadmap development, according to Davidson. A Technical Special Interest Group, or SIG, chaired by industry veterans Dean Pemberton and Andy Linton is seeking to build the “how to for NZ” guide to IPv6 deployment, and InternetNZ is providing active support for it.

Finally, Davidson says InternetNZ hosts the ipv6.org.nz website that provides deployment information and news, plus various IPv6 related mailing lists in which industry peers participate and discuss the new protocol.

Why aren’t more New Zealand organisations moving to IPv6 then? Davidson says that it is a hard sell to get commitment to migrate. “There is some awareness that IPv4 is running out, but if you have adequate IPv4 space, there is not any particularly compelling reason to change,” he says.

“There is increasing pressure to not spend money and IPv6 deployment has real costs, and no tangible resulting increases in revenue,” he says.

Also, our legacy of underinvestment in networks is coming back to haunt us. Davidson suggests that IPv6 is not as high a priority as getting useful broadband deployed.

However, he says the two issues could go hand in hand, and any new network deployment should automatically be IPv6 enabled. It is never easier to deploy fundamental build blocks as it is on initial implementation.

To move forwards, InternetNZ would like to see increasing availability from the carriers and ISPs in the short to medium term, and some real commitments to adopting IPv6 by content provider and aggregators in the medium term.

Standing still and relaying on private address space through Network Address Translation or NAT, is not a solution Davidson believes.

“NAT is a work-around, that doesn’t always preserve the end-to-end principles of the internet,” he says.

Asked to quantify how urgent it is for New Zealand to move to IPv6, Davidson points out the US Commerce Secretary said in February that the new protocol is one of the top five priorities for the US government internet infrastructure.

Our government is making some progress, Davidson says, but could be a little firmer in its resolve to get its own networks running.

Could we end up with a black market where scarce IPv4 addresses are traded for high prices? Davidson says there is some speculation that a secondary market for IPv4 is emerging already, but adds that this may not be possible, as the Regional NICs like APNIC may refuse to re-route such IP addresses — as the allocation is between APNIC and an organisation/person, and not necessarily transferrable to anyone else.

Government: IPv6 adoption a tough nut to crack

While the US government is making IPv6 a top priority, the New Zealand administration is taking a slower approach. Presently, none of the New Zealand government internet presence is IPv6 enabled, bar the academic KAREN network.

Frank March, a specialist advisor in the digital development group at MED and a member of IPv6 Steering Group, explains that the ministry’s approach to IPv6 is based on the OECD paper from June last year, which said that IPv6 is basically an industry issue.

The OECD paper suggested that government intervention should take three forms of activity:

First, the government should get its own house in order by adopting IPv6. Second, the government should work to raise awareness of the issue by ensuring that ministers and officials speak out about it. Government agencies should work with others to adopt it, March says.

Finally, the government should ensure there are adequate numbers of trained network engineers to ensure there are no impediments to its adoption.

MED supports the IPv6 working group through contracting Dr Murray Milner to chair the group. Yet, while Karen’s adoption of IPv6 is an example of government getting its own house in order, it is a lonely one, March says.

As with the private sector, the “no business case to migrate” arguement makes it hard to move .govt to IPv6, according to March. That said, NAT is not a solution, he says.

“IPv4 workarounds are limiting internet adoption because NAT violates the end-to-end principle, and is a case of unrecognised lost opportunity,” he says.

Solutions providers: difficult business case to migrate

Catalyst’s senior software developer Andrew Ruthven, who specialises in IPv6, says transitioning to IPv6 is becoming more important, due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining IPv4 address space.

“We are going to start seeing companies that cannot obtain routable IPv4 address space,” he warns.

To prepare for IPv6, Ruthven says Catalyst has enabled the new protocol within its office network, as well as some of its key services to gain experience.

So far, that experience has been mostly painless, Ruthven says. There are some applications that are IPv4 only, but Catalyst has been able to work around these, or use test versions that have IPv6 support.

That’s not to say a migration to IPv6 from IPv4 is a walk in the park: Ruthven says that rolling out IPv6 requires careful planning, and may necessitate new hardware to gain support for the new protocol.

For that reason, Ruthven says the cost of an IPv6 rollout is hard to judge, it depends on the size and complexity of the existing network.

Gen-i strategy manager Mike Lott sings a similar tune to Catalyst’s Ruthven.

“It’s a tricky one,” he says. Gen-i believes that for companies with private networks behind NAT there is no rush to move towards IPv6.

“NAT does the business” according to Lott. Gateways that translate between IPv4 and IPv6 networks is the solution most customers will go for initially, rather than a full-blown migration, he says.

Large IPv4 installations are costly to migrate, and apart from renumbering devices, not all legacy equipment and operating systems support IPv6. Lott says this further weakens the business case for IPv6, especially in the current challenging economic climate.

Furthermore, network security is a concern, says Lott. Few network security products support both IPv4 and IPv6, and new ones may need to be purchased. Added together, it’s difficult to argue for the increased cost and complexity an IPv6 migration entails, he says.

Lott believes that while we “definitely need to do it” and move to IPv6 at some point, it’s still at the early adopter stage with enthusiasts mainly deploying the new protocol.

Even though there’s little customer demand so far for the new protocol, Lott says Gen-i is IPv6 ready and has been for the past few years. All Gen-i equipment, from the Juniper core routers to the desktop operating systems are IPv6 capable, Lott says, giving the integrator the ability to build up experience.

Microsoft New Zealand: do more with the Internet over IPv6

Even though IPv6 isn’t widely available on the internet infrastructure, on the client-side, the new protocol has been available for many years now. The network stacks in Apple’s Mac OS X, Linux and the various BSDs are all IPv6 capable. Microsoft’s client and server operating systems are IPv6 ready too, and the software giant is keen to further the adoption of the protocol, as the range of new features it brings makes for a richer user internet experience.

Regional technology officer at Microsoft Asia-Pacific, Oliver Bell, starts off by pointing out that we ran out of internet address space in 1974 already.

The precursor to the internet, ARPAnet, only contemplated a grand total of 256 networks, and designed addressing, routing protocols and topology accordingly. At the time, the problem was solved by using the concept of Class A, B and C addresses, but even then, workarounds such as NAT and address management tricks had to be deployed to push out the depletion to 2010, according to Bell.

In contrast, IPv6 not only takes the pressure off address allocation, but also opens up a host of new possibilities, Bell says.

IPv6 is one of those issues that really does require some level of co-ordination from every level of the industry, for an effective migration to take place, Bell believes.

The IT industry in general is pretty close to being ready for IPv6, Bell says. When it comes to Microsoft, its Windows client and server operating systems have been IPv6 ready for a while now, Bell says.

Vista and the upcoming release of Windows 7 will select an IPv6 network in preference to IPv4 if they find one, according to Bell. We feel that this will make migration to IPv6 smoother and simpler for our customers as they set about doing it.

What are the compelling drivers for Microsoft customers to move to IPv6? Bell says Microsoft has a couple of scenarios in Windows 7, like DirectConnect, that need IPv6 functionality.

“We are seeing our early test customers implement IPv6 internally to support these tools, then use interim solutions like Teredo to work with existing IPv4 networks while they wait on their ISPs to migrate to IPv6,” Bell says.

For New Zealand Bell thinks there are a few key points that make the migration to IPv6 both an opportunity and a necessity.

“We get to do more with the internet. New Zealanders love their technology and IPv6 opens up an array of new device and application possibilities, including an increasing number of green energy solutions for the home and for the office,” according to Bell.

Importantly, Bell points out that IPv6 implementations are already underway in markets where New Zealand companies do business, especially markets like China and India. We must be able to communicate with these markets.

Telecom not fussed about IPv6 but TelstraClear already there

Is IPv6 a pressing issue for network providers? Depending on whom you talk to, you’ll get different answers. FX Networks recently announced that its network is fully IPv6 enabled and smaller ISPs Computerworld approached say they are actively looking into the new protocol, as they believe customer demand for it will build up over the next few years as adoption overseas increases.

TelstraClear is also going down the IPv6 route, according to the telco’s spokesman Chris Mirams. Its Next IP network is IPv6 capable and has been for a while, he states.

“We can assist our current enterprise and government customers if they wish to perform IPv6 testing of our network. We are yet to provide IPv6 capability for internet services but have this work in hand,” Mirams says.

Asked if customers are requesting IPv6 from TelstraClear, Mirams says there has been some interest, mainly enquiring if the capability is possible. For this reason, TelstraClear has some trials under way with a number of clients that are “going well”, he says.

Mirams says IPv4 address spaces are likely to run out in 2011 and planning work for this change is required from service providers and telecommunications users.

Telecom too has an active IPv6 team assessing the risks and opportunities offered by the move to IPv6, says PR manager for home calling, broadband and online, Emma-Kate Greer.

The incumbent isn’t that worried about the upcoming address depletion, however. Greer says Telecom has sufficient addresses available to meet our requirements well beyond the next couple of years.

Presently, Telecom’s IPv6 team is working with customers, government agencies and other industry players to work out the best approach to gradually introduce IPv6 addresses when and where they’re required, Greer says. “We expect a smooth migration with the two protocols running side by side for a number of years,” Greer concludes.

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Tags FX NetworkscatalystMicrosoftNetworking & Telecomms IDInternet NZtelecomTelstraClearipv6

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