For an end user accessing the internet, it hardly, if at all, matters which address family they are browsing the intended website on. But if you’re a network architect or a network engineer you perfectly understand that IPv6 is need of the hour. And looking at how more and more solutions are emerging around Internet of things, need for fast deployment of IPv6 becomes even more critical.
But one must wonder, despite being so important, why has the adoption of IPv6 been so slow? And what can be done to speed up the IPv4 to IPv6 transition. And this is the exact point I want to touch upon today.
Let’s talk about the problems first.#
The biggest issue here is IPv6 not being backwards compatible. You can consider IPv4 and IPv6 as step sisters, who don’t like talking to each other. So as a result whoever enables IPv6 in their network, will have to maintain reachability over IPv4 as well, until each and every host on the internet is IPv6 capable. And enabling IPv6 sometimes also requires upgrading the legacy equipment. Thus, larger the network costlier and more time consuming it becomes to enable and maintain dual-stack reachability.
And second issue I see is, different vendors have different implementation for IPv6 in their hardware. So as a result all equipment available on the market, specifically CPE (customer premises equipment), either don’t have IPv6 support or are not compatible with “IPv6 enabled” equipment from other vendors. So it’s very hard to find a vendor combination with similar IPv6 implementation. This is not the case with enterprise grade equipment though. But a home broadband CPE is something that actually establishes the reachability up to the end users and those, sadly, are lacking behind on IPv6 front.
And third and equally important issue in my opinion is non-awareness of the concept among the general users. And other pillars of the “Internet Society”. I’ll explain in a minute, what I mean by that.
One more reason I believe for slow transition is, though RIRs have/are running out of IPv4 address space. But large networks who were allocated big chunks of IPv4 in the early days, still have sufficient IPv4 blocks to take care of their requirements for several years to come. I’ll talk about how we can still push them to implement IPv6, in a few seconds.
What is being done to speed-up the transition?#
So far I’ve written about the challenges in IPv6 deployment, but it’s not just about that. There are people in the community who are working hard to get the transition phase end, and are eager to see a complete IPv6 internet as soon as possible.
World IPv6 day was organized by Internet Society on June 8th 2011 when many major networks including Akamai, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Limelight Networks, Microsoft, Wikipedia Foundation, Yahoo among others enabled IPv6 in their network for 24 Hours test flight. And later enabled IPv6 permanently in their networks on June 6th 2012.
Networks community is also playing their part well in on-boarding more and more people with IPv6. Various workshops are also being conducted throughout the world by various community groups.
On the other hand companies like Hurricane Electric have come forward with solution like Tunnel Broker for networks sitting on the edge. Where-in anyone can run IPv6 in their network even if their upstream have not rolled out yet.
Something we’re still missing on?#
If you were paying attention, everything I discussed throughout this article is directly connected to Internet operations. And everyone including Individuals, community groups or companies are focused on pushing network operators to enable IPv6 in their network. Of-course that part is equally important. But one thing that I think we’ve overlooked is training the people who actually deploy nodes on far end of the Internet. To be honest this is what inspired me write this article.
On one end i.e. computers on the consumers side, there are computer guys who actually deploy local network and establish connectivity with the internet for user’s devices. Specially in the SME (small & medium enterprise) space. Majority of these tech guys don’t know much about IPv6 deployment yet. And are left on their own to learn. If we could get them on-board, I think this can significantly expedite the transition process. Because they’re sitting on the consumer side. And consumers are ones who drive the market trends. If they ask for IPv6 support from their service providers, it’ll become “mandatory” for the operators to enable IPv6 ASAP, which is not the case otherwise. And same goes for hardware vendor, as I’ve already mentioned about none or broken support for IPv6 in CPEs. If consumers start complaining about availability & compatibility of IPv6 in the CPE, the hardware vendors will have to take this seriously and fix IPv6 related issues on urgent basis, which again doesn’t seems to be the case otherwise.
On the other end, where the content is hosted i.e. websites. If we skip a few hundred websites that are large enough that they can afford their in-house network team, most of the websites are taken care by the developer community, i.e. the person/team who designs & develops the website, including DNS management. These guys not being that much aware of IPv6, We’ll often find such scenarios where a webApp is hosted on a IPv6 enabled server, but still doesn’t have a AAAA (IPv6) DNS record. And as a result the project won’t be reachable over IPv6, just because the guy deploying the app wasn’t aware. Or doesn’t feel the need for it. If we can make them understand the importance of IPv6 and tell them how their webApp will benefit and be future ready, it will play a vital role in completing the incomplete IPv6 internet.
So to conclude here, instead of focusing only on the network operators to enable IPv6 in their network, we also need to look after these other pillar of the Internet society. And if we do so, we’ll see they’ll all complement each other. And IPv4 to IPv6 transition phase will end way sooner than expected.