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More switching on IPv6

One month after 24-hour next-gen Internet protocol test flight, more content providers have enabled IPv6 on their Web sites, say industry insiders.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

More content providers have switched to IPv6 following the success of the World IPv6 Day test flight which went by smoothly and affected but a small number of users, said participants.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Geoff Huston, chief scientist at APNIC (Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre), reported that there were no unexpected hiccups during World IPv6 Day. The event, which happened exactly one month ago, saw stakeholders of the Internet serve content over IPv6 for 24 hours.

According to Huston, the success of the event led to more content providers delivering content over IPv6. He pointed out that prior to World IPv6 Day, only 0.5 percent of the top million Web sites ranked by Alexa had turned on IPv6. Post-World IPv6 Day, 1.2 percent of the top million sites switched on the new protocol, said Huston, who added the increase was "very encouraging".

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, a Google spokesperson described the test flight as a "success" and noted that "at least on the surface, the first global test of IPv6 passed without incident".

That said, the search giant does not intend to make IPv6 the default for Google services. Instead, IPv6 access will be enabled only for users who have signed up for the "Google over IPv6 program", said the spokesperson.

Truman Boyes from Juniper Networks also said the Jun. 8 test flight went smoothly for the company. Boyes, the networking company's Asia-Pacific senior professional services manager, explained in an e-mail: "We were able to publish IPv6 content with minimal changes to internal infrastructure, and we saw a small but measurable increase in IPv6 traffic to our site, www.juniper.net."

The experience for Juniper's customers was "largely positive as well" as there were no outages or service degradation, he added.

Moving forward, Boyes said Juniper Networks will continue to have an IPv6 presence and work with the IPv6 community. "What we expect is a great deal of work over the next 12 months to steer our customers, service providers and enterprises alike, through a smooth transition to IPv6," he noted.

Lessons from World IPv6 Day
Aside from acting as a testing ground, World IPv6 Day also allowed its participants to find out how to make the shift to IPv6 better, especially with the exhaustion of IPv4 address.

According to Boyes, service providers need to account for the differences in peering arrangements between IPv4 and IPv6 networks. He added that this is primarily a commercial issue and is currently being addressed.

APNIC's Huston noted that during the test flight, only 0.02 percent of users had problems with connecting to IPv6. This translates to only two in every 10,000 users and is a "very, very small" proportion, he said.

These users, Huston explained, are using very old software, such as early versions of Windows XP. In those situations, the operating system's attempts to connect to IPv6 fail, but yet it does not fall back to IPv4 connections as it would in a normal process, he said.

For these users, the easiest fix is to turn off IPv6 on the local stack, he added.

Stressing that the problem only affects a very small number of users, Huston said helpdesks of Internet services participating in the IPv6 trial did not receive a significant amount of complaints.

Mixed reactions over telco enthusiasm
According to tests by APNIC, at least 25 percent of the world's host computers are ready to run native IPv6, which refers to an environment where the entire infrastructure is able to support the newer protocol, said Huston. The success of World IPv6 Day has also encouraged content providers to serve their services over IPv6, he said, adding that this shows that the supply and client --or user--side of IPv6 are ready for the change.

What is lacking now is Internet service providers (ISPs) providing native IPv6, he said. Some network providers see the transition to IPv6 as a cost and prefer to turn to technologies such as carrier-grade Network Address Translation (NAT) or application level gateways to translate IPv4 and IPv6, he said.

Compared to investing in IPv6, these alternative technologies will work in the short term but will cost these network providers in the long run, he said.

Juniper Networks' Boyes, however, disagreed that ISPs are disregarding IPv6 as his company has seen an increasing demand from telcos in the region for IPv6 transition exercises. "Our professional services consultants are working with a number of service providers on transition plans and, in many cases, these plans involve IPv6 dual-stack technologies rather than purely NAT," he said.

Adrian Low, Brocade's Asia-Pacific director for application delivery products, also noted in an e-mail to ZDNet Asia that the industry, hosted service providers, telecom operators and governments in Asia are particularly interested in IPv6 migration.

"Although the IPv4 exhaustion is real, there is still time to plan," he said. "For any organization, deciding when and how to migrate to IPv6 should start with a business analysis and business case. As part of the technical analysis, it is important to understand the options and evaluate which ones would work well for the business."

Low also defended the use of NAT. "The most cost-effective and sensible migration strategy is to build on existing infrastructure using transition technologies to selectively add new IPv6 services as needed."

He added that several technologies are available to create a bridge between IPv4 and IPv6 using NAT. "To facilitate seamless communication with the new breed of IPv6-only customers in addition to IPv4 customers, a standards-based NAT64 gateway offers a simple and cost-effective transition path to IPv6 without changes to CPE (customer premise equipment) or server infrastructure," he explained.

"An application delivery switch not only provides NAT64 address translation, but also offers a mechanism to retain address information between two end points," he added. "For example, an application delivery switch can leverage HTTP capabilities to insert the source-IP address of an originator into a custom header so that back-end application servers can utilize it for tracking purposes."

The transition to IPv6, summed up Boyes of Juniper Networks, will not happen overnight.

"It involves careful planning of the network's architecture and any number of downstream considerations, such as network management and the replacement of customer premise equipment," he said.

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