By: Mirjam Kühne
Date: June 7, 2009
More than 10 years have passed since RFC 1883-the document that outlined the IPv6 specification-was finalized. Yet even with the depletion of IPv4 addresses looming large on the horizon, IPv6 adoption remains surprisingly, if not persistently, low.
Attendee asks a question to the IPv6 panelists
With the need for adoption and deployment growing more urgent, both the Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force have been working on ways to raise awareness of the importance of IPv6 for the continued growth and functionality of the Internet.
In an effort to bridge the engineering and the rest of the IP-address-dependent world, the Internet Society hosted a panel discussion in March 2009 in conjunction with IETF 74 for the purpose of presenting a wide range of perspectives on IPv6 adoption. The panel, entitled The Seven Stages of IPv6, outlined the opportunities made available by IPv6 from the perspective of network citizens who are in the seven stages of dealing with the enormity of change.
Discussion was wide-ranging, but certain key messages emerged:
- IPv6 is ready for deployment, and deployment is as straightforward as any network technology rollout.
- Even as the general uptake is fairly slow, there are important pockets of IPv6 deployment, demonstrating movement.
- The alternative to deploying IPv6 is not “leaving the network as it is”?; the nature of the IPv4 network is changing in response to the lack of available addresses.
Where We Are
ISOC staff preparing for the IPv6 session
For more than a decade, the Internet development community has been aware that in the long run, IPv4 will not be capable of providing enough addresses to allow each machine on the network to have its own address. By 1995, work on IPv6 was completed. Today the real task is to facilitate the spread of IPv6 uniformly across the global Internet.
IPv6, according to moderator Leslie Daigle, isn’t the question; it is the answer. “The question is, Do we want to continue to have an Internet that continues to be expanded by innovations? If that’s the case, we need to deploy IPv6,”? she said.
Back when IPv6 was being finalized, it was thought that the transition strategy would be dual stack: a network supporting both IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneously. According to panellist Russ Housley, that meant engineers would start incorporating the new technology onto the old technology, and “once everybody was able to communicate over IPv6, we could start disabling IPv4, and everything would transition smoothly.”? The strategy didn’t work as planned, even though those who implemented IPv6 felt that it worked fine.
Today the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) are issuing 12 IPv4 /8s per year, and the distribution rate is not slowing down. In fact, according to panellist Richard Jimmerson, it’s picking up, particularly in such regions as Asia Pacific, where there are significant numbers of underserved areas and great demand for IPv4 address space. At the end of 2008, there were 34 /8s remaining at the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to be allocated to the RIRs. “At the current rate, it is expected that the remaining /8s will last approximately two years,”? Richard said.
Even as the time to address pool exhaustion approaches, the IETF continues to develop new tools to bridge IPv4 and IPv6. “When the IETF puts out a specification, we don’t just forget about it,”? panellist Jari Arkko said. “We actually care a lot about continued accuracy and maintenance of the specifications.”? However, that’s only a small part of the overall effort. The real challenges are deployment and working on new features. For the most part, said Jari, these are things like IP diagnostics in both IPv4 and IPv6.
Is IPv6 the Question-or the Answer?
Lorenzo Colitti speaking at the IPv6 Panel session
The panellists agreed that the ways people use the Internet today are much different from before-and much different than anyone doing development work then might have anticipated. Today, as Russ pointed out, people expect to be able to carry in their pocket a device that is always on and always connected. “That means we need an address space that allows every device to be always on and always connected,”? he said. “Within the IETF, there is a working group devoted to low-power, battery-operated devices that are in your home, on your desk, or even on your thermostat.”? If every house in the world were equipped with such equipment, the number of addresses needed would exceed the space that was ever available in IPv4.
Moreover, there is no way of knowing what new applications are on the horizon. “We didn’t know in the 1980s that all these things were going to come along,”? said Lorenzo Colitti. “So now we have two choices: either we can stay with the original architecture of the Internet-where you can deploy applications by simply deploying a machine here and a machine there and having them talk to each other, which allows the Internet to continue to operate as a communications medium-or we can choose to deploy NAT [network address translation], which would fundamentally change the architecture of the Internet. We don’t know what the future applications will be. The sky’s the limit.”?
Much of the discussion focused on why motivation to adopt and deploy IPv6 is so low and why denial over the need to do so is so high. Many of the panellists pointed to a lack of economic incentive, which may be true in some respects, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits. As panellist Alain Durand pointed out, an economic incentive means, “If I deploy something to work with this technology, I will benefit.”? Every technology that has been successfully deployed in the past 15 years has been incremental, he said.
Panellist Kurtis Lindqvist looked to other factors that are delaying adoption and deployment of IPv6, such as the time it takes to deploy, the fact that it is not backward compatible, and the reality that it offers neither new features nor additional revenue streams for businesses and organizations.
Perception could also be part of the problem. “The Internet of today is much different than it was when IPv6 was first developed,”? said Kurtis, “and it is being deployed today in much different ways than was originally anticipated.”? That means the migration from IPv4 is also going to be different from what we might have expected. The Internet, he said, is not homogenous; it is different depending on what part of the world you’re in. Similarly, different organisations are in different stages of IPv4 depletion and IPv6 adoption.
Regardless of the ancillary explanations, both the panellists and the audience members kept returning to the idea that the primary obstacle to the adoption of IPv6 is a lack of economic incentive. That assumption is partially supported by the results of a survey recently published by the Internet Society. (See the document.) As part of the results, a number of ISOC’s Organization Members say they do not see a specific business case for IPv6, although they recognize that their customers are demanding it. “We’re hearing a lot of people talking about managing large-scale NAT devices,”? said Lorenzo. “NATs are expensive and difficult to maintain.”? In fact, he claims that most of those who have deployed IPv6 would agree that doing so is much simpler than deploying layers of NAT. “It is refreshingly simple to look at a network with only global addresses and have it work the way it should,”? he said.
The good news is that the depletion of IPv4 address space is not like running out of oil. “It’s not as if all of a sudden no cars will be able to run and you can’t drive to work the next morning,”? Alain assured the audience. “Everything that has been deployed still works.”? However, knowing that your computer will still work when IPv4 addresses are depleted does not mean that adoption of IPv6 isn’t a necessary change.
In the developed world, the obstacles to change are directly tied to economics or are consequences of avoidance. In the developing world, the obstacles have more to do with whether governments support an information economy and how much they’re willing to invest to make it happen. In those regions, the governments are only just beginning to become aware of the IPv4-to-IPv6 issues. So, when it comes to the seven stages, panellist SebastiÃ¡n Bellagamba says, in Latin America and the Caribbean, “we have not even begun to enter them.”?
Throughout the developing world, governments are in nascent stages of understanding the new roles they play with regard to technology development and the future of their countries’ economies and societies. As SebastiÃ¡n said, not only do governments today act as regulators; they also are heavy users and often even service providers. For most of those governments, the Internet and related technologies represent a way to attract development and economic growth to their countries. In Argentina, for example, the Internet has become so important that 75 percent of the internal revenue passes through it. “So in that case, if something happens to the Internet,”? SebastiÃ¡n said, “the income of the government is affected.”?
IPv6 panellists and audience members mingle
According to Lorenzo, at Google, it began when a couple of people started to deploy IPv6 as a small project and then a pilot network was built. Once the network was up, they saw how the applications followed. “We did it in stages,”? he said. “The principle that guided us, which I strongly believe is good for deployment, was that it doesn’t have to be as capable as your IPv4 stack on Day One. The traffic levels are not comparable. However, it does have to be done properly, and it has to be production ready and supported. It has to be designed according to the same quality standards that you would meet for any other kind of technology infrastructure. Otherwise, it is of no use to anyone.”?
Lorenzo encouraged those who have a production-ready IPv6 network to talk to Google because the company can provide all Google content and services over IPv6. “That means you not only get to use your IPv6 network; you also get to find out what the problems are, if there are any problems,”? he said. “Also, you get to find out if other people are implementing it, and you get to be able to say, “˜Yes, we do support IPv6 on our network.’”?
However, Lorenzo also cautioned the audience to be aware that traffic will appear overnight. “When you do large deployments,”? he said, “it will just appear out of nowhere. There is no organic growth. We turned IPv6 on for Google maps, and we saw a threefold increase overnight.”?
For those who are hesitating, the unmistakable message was that, with a few exceptions, IPv6 is fine and ready to be deployed. The challenges, however, are real. From the perspective of the service provider, they are what Alain refers to as “the two long-tail problems of IPv4.”? The first long tail is what is happening in the home. “It’s not only about whether or not Windows supports IPv6,”? he said. “It’s also about the latest gadgets. Today there are cameras with WiFi interfaces that can upload pictures to the Web.”? Those may be nice services, but all of them are implemented with IPv4, and unfortunately, those devices do not upgrade to IPv6. The same thing is true of the 60-inch television with the cable modem integrated and the software that allows a user to browse the Internet. “That’s all IPv4, not IPv6,”? he said, “and that’s a problem.”?
The second long tail is what is going to happen with content. “My thanks to Lorenzo for getting Google on IPv6,”? said Alain, “but what about the second tier of Web services, such as news agencies? What about the third tier of Web services, such as small shops?”? Eventually, all of those will migrate to IPv6, but it will take some time. Turning on the IPv6-only service is not going to serve the needs of customers who have devices that work only with IPv4, nor will it serve the needs of customers who want to access content that is available only with IPv4. “When dealing with those realities,”? Alain suggests, “perhaps what we need is a two-pronged approach.”? The first part involves embracing IPv6 and getting as many endpoint devices on it and as much traffic as possible to it. The second part has to do with realizing that the IPv4 world cannot be abandoned. “It’s not as if we move to a new world and the old world becomes lost,”? he said. “No. We need a bridge between the IPv4 and the IPv6 worlds.”?
The Road to IPv6 Adoption
Russ Housley presenting during the IPv6 panel
In addition to efforts by the IETF and the Internet Society to bring the issue to the fore in both technology and policy venues, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and the other Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) have engaged in awareness campaigns throughout the world. According to Richard, ARIN began going to trade shows in 2006, exhibiting, giving presentations, and talking to people about IPv4 depletion and IPv6 adoption. What the RIRs encountered, according to Richard, really were, as Leslie described, disbelief and denial. “The people we talked with did not believe we would run out of IPv4 addresses, and they were not interested in IPv6,”? he said.
Recently, there has been a noticeable shift, and Richard says he believes the audience is becoming much more receptive to the IPv6 message. That could be due to the Internet community and the technical community’s coming together to work toward widespread IPv6 adoption, which would be one way of assuaging the fears and overcoming denial. “They seem to be working towards acceptance,”? Richard said. Timing also plays a role. “No one really does anything before they have to,”? said Jari.
With regard to creating incentives, one journalist asked whether avoidance of future costs would qualify as an economic incentive. “I think people do things if there’s a reason to do it,”? Richard responded. It’s important to remember that there is no master plan for deploying IPv6. As Leslie said, for most of the technologists who work in an IETF-like, multistakeholder environment, that’s a feature, because it means different pools can develop at their own rate. As the survey made clear, there is no direct or concise business incentive for moving to IPv6, but customers are asking for it. “That but part of the comment is important for understanding the entire context,”? said Leslie. “It goes back to the issue that what customers actually want are applications that work. That means they want continued global addressing in the network, which means, at this point, IPv6.”?
To understand that role of the marketplace, it might also be important to distinguish between business incentives and business drivers. “I think that, in some ways, if there were better business drivers, we would pay for some implementation of IPv6,”? said SebastiÃ¡n, who also said the economic incentives are there, particularly among countries that depend on the Internet for economic growth. In many places in the world, he added, “they need more addresses in order to grow. The only addresses they can get are IPv6 addresses. Therefore, there is some clear economic incentive in that area.”?
What can governments do to promote the transition to IPv6? According to SebastiÃ¡n, the first thing they need to do is to address it. SebastiÃ¡n reminded the audience that IPv6 is not a purely regulatory issue. “It is an issue that has to be addressed by governments together with the private sector,”? he said.
Moving toward Acceptance
One of the benefits of the way the migration from IPv4 to IPv6 has evolved is how the migration has helped the technical community understand a lot more about how the Internet works, even about how IPv4 networks work. “As we deploy IPv6,”? Kurtis said, “we need to go back and change some of our original ideas about how to do this. In the meantime, we are acquiring valuable operational experience.”? Similarly, the technical community needs to continue working on a transition strategy that will be seamless and invisible to the end user. “It shouldn’t matter to you whether your Web site or e-mail is sent over IPv4 or IPv6,”? he said.
IETF participant waiting for a session to start
Coming to acceptance where IPv6 is concerned may be a struggle, but if the Internet is to continue to evolve, it is a necessary struggle. The shepherding of organizations, service providers, and governments toward acceptance has become a priority to organizations such as the IETF and the Internet Society. As Leslie explained at the beginning of the discussion, the Internet Society is the organizational home of the IETF, but it has a broader mission to promote the evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world. “From that perspective, we believe that the IETF has an important role to play with respect to IPv6, and not only in terms of developing the specification,”? she said.
Beyond the efforts to raise awareness, many of the panellists are simply true believers, and they hope the message will inspire action. “If we want the Internet to be around in three to four years in its current state, then we want to use IPv6,”? Lorenzo said. “It will allow the Internet to continue to function as we know it. And it will keep the Internet open.”?