The Internet has grown rapidly, even faster than most believed it ever would. Today, we’re seeing a significant increase in demand for more IP addresses as popular consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets become connected to the Internet. With this increase in demand, the address space used by the current version of the Internet protocol, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), is projected to be completely exhausted in the near future.
Without immediate action, Internet users on a global scale face the risk of incurring increased costs and limited functionality. The only lasting solution to this problem is the global adoption of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which will provide more than 4 billion times more Internet address space than IPv4. IPv6 has been used extensively in many large networks, but until recently, had never been enabled at a global scale. That changed on June 8, 2011.
World IPv6 Day
Organized by the Internet Society, World IPv6 Day was the first, global test of IPv6. The event brought together the Internet community, including a large number of Internet service providers (ISPs), hardware makers, operating system vendors and Web companies, to prepare their services for IPv6 and to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out. Major industry players such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Comcast, Time Warner and more came together to enable IPv6 on their main websites for a period of 24 hours.
World IPv6 Day proved successful as it helped organizations work together to support the new protocol on an accelerated timeline while revealing possible issues with real world IPv6 deployment under controlled conditions. The event raised consciousness of the need for an alternative to IPv4 and demonstrated that IPv6 can run with minimal disruptions to existing IPv4 users.
So, where do we go from here? Do we automatically flip the switch to IPv6 starting tomorrow? Before we look into the future, let’s first take a look at how we got here.
The Origins of IPv6
Market forces are fostering a wider deployment of IPv6 and while carriers in the U.S. have begun to roll out plans for IPv6 services, they continue to lag in IPv6 deployment compared to operators in other markets such as Japan. As the co-founder of IP Infusion, I have been involved in IPv6 since it was first specified. In fact, I started one of the world’s first IPv6 implementations in Tokyo back in 1995.
There have been two key drivers for IPv6 adoption. The first was the notion that IPv4 addresses would eventually run out. Back in the early 1990s, the industry had an “ah-ha” moment when we recognized that someday we would run out of available IPv4 address. The industry needed to be prepared for this to come to fruition. What should be considered the official launch of IPv6 activities took place at INET ’92, located in Kobe, Japan, when IPv6 was still referred to as IPng (IP next generation). Later, in 1994 at the 30th Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) event in Toronto, IPng was renamed IPv6.
The second driver for IPv6 adoption is to return to the initial philosophy of the Internet – delivery of end-to-end communication. Due to the limitation of IPv4 address, the industry introduced Network Address Translators (NAT), the process of modifying IP address information in IP packet headers while in transit across a traffic routing device. In the mid-’90s NAT became a very popular tool for alleviating the consequences of IPv4 address exhaustion. But, with the introduction of NAT, the original Internet concept of end-to-end communication became compromised.
Today’s Transition from IPv4 to IPv6
Today, most network service providers are still only supporting IPv4. IPv6 was developed to support the growing need for additional IP addresses brought about by the decreasing availability of address space for 32 bit for IPv4. IPv4 has proven to be robust, interoperable and for most requirements, scalable. Nonetheless, compared with IPv4, IPv6 brings a number of distinct advantages including a quadrupling of address space, stateless address configuration, built-in security, better Quality of Service (QoS) and, perhaps most importantly, extensibility by adding additional headers.
With the transition to IPv6 imminent, network service providers are faced with the fact that they will need to maintain both IPv4 and IPv6 networks during what could be a long, drawn out transitional period. To support a smooth migration from IPv4 and IPv6, transition technologies become very important.
Recently, two primary types of transition technologies from IPv4 to IPv6 have been proposed. The first provides IPv6 connectivity across the IPv4 network infrastructures. The second provides IPv4 connectivity across the IPv6 network infrastructures. Furthermore, each type has two modes of deployment called “stateless” and “stateful.” In order to provide IPv6 connectivity across IPv4 network infrastructures, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) can be used as the stateful technology. Also, IPv6 Rapid Deployment can be used as the stateless technology.
As networks transition to IPv6, legacy support of IPv4 across IPv6 network infrastructure is imperative. In addition, the support of IPv6 across the existing IPv4 network infrastructure is necessary in order to provide new services using IPv6 to customers. For the coexistence of IPv4 and IPv6 networks, tunneling is one of the key deployment mechanisms as described above. Tunneling enables to provide IPv4 connectivity across IPv6 network infrastructure as well as to provide IPv6 connectivity across IPv4 network infrastructure.
The Future is Now
Without a doubt, IPv6 has a bright future. With each passing day, we continue to witness the demand for more IP addresses, and the adoption of IPv6 increases due to the rapid growth of smartphones and tablets as well as new wireless technology such as LTE and WiMAX. The quadrupled address space that will be provided by IPv6 will therefore be vital to deploying services to the next billion Internet users on a global scale.
World IPv6 Day acted as a focal point to bring existing IPv6 efforts together. For the first time, players from all parts of the industry were able to work together towards the common goal of enabling IPv6 on large scale with minimal disruption.
Since its inception in 1999, IP Infusion has been a pioneer in the development of solutions for IPv4 and IPv6 technologies and has carried out extensive testing with Tier I OEMs and carriers. In the coming year, we expect to expand our capabilities to provide software for IPv6 based applications such as smart grid, cloud-based software and data center networking software that will address critical telecom requirements for the transition to next-generation mobile, Carrier Ethernet and cloud networking services. It is our continuing goal to be at the forefront in ensuring that the imminent and complete transition to IPv6 is as smooth as possible for all involved.
Kunihiro Ishiguro is chief technology officer and co-founder of IP Infusion.