IPV6: The web’s new neighbourhood

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BitDepth for June 19, 2012

ARIN’s Steve Scally presents on IPv6 status at CaribNOG 2012. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
ARIN’s Steve Scally presents on IPv6 status at CaribNOG 2012. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

It’s possible to call the new implementation of network addressing for the Internet, rather unflatteringly called IPv6, a new development along the Information superhighway.

The metaphor collapses rather suddenly when it becomes clear that the existing Internet, served by an addressing scheme called – wait for it – IPv4, is roughly the size of your thumbnail and the virtual space available for network colonisation under IPv6 is roughly as big as the sun.

The number that Steve Scally of the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN) used at last week’s meeting of CaribNOG was 3.4 X 10 to the power of 38, or 10^38 or if you’d like a brand-new, unimaginable word for an equally unimaginable number, 340 undecillon addresses.

A discussion about IPv6 at the Caribbean Network Operators Group conference necessarily drifted into the staggeringly technical. These are the folks who will need to figure out how to bring their networks into the coming world of IPv6.

The two protocols don’t talk to each other (the sun can’t talk to your thumbnail either) and deciding how to make them work together from the perspective of an end user will be part of everyday discussions in the backrooms of technology based companies for some time to come.

That’s because the thumbnail of IPv4 has been slowly trimmed to the quick over the last five years. The four billion addresses available under the protocol, a staggering number back in the early days of the Internet, are almost all taken.

It isn’t that nobody noticed before now.

On June 08 2011, the Internet Society held the first World IPv6 Day, a public test day for hosts running the protocol to test both the availability of branches of the new network and the various technological workarounds that make it possible for the two Internets to talk to each other.

By February that year, the last address blocks available (think pages in the business directory) were allocated to Regional Internet Registries and the clock running down IPv4 address space began.

On June 06, 2012, the Internet Society held World IPv6 launch day, intended as an occasion for ISPs and technology administrators to commit to deploying IPv6 technologies permanently. Facebook, Cisco and Google had already left their infrastructure supporting the new technologies in place after a successful deployment in 2011.

So what’s the status of local support for the new network addressing scheme?

Brian Jahra of Three Sixty Communications has been a cheerleader for IPv6 since 2007.

“Three Sixty has a /32 or about 2^96 addresses,” Jahra said.

“We have cross connections in the Miami NAP with Tier 1 global carriers with whom we actively exchange IPv6 routes. All of our core switches and routing devices have been IPv6 ready since 2007/8. Simillarly our DNS servers are IPv6 ready.”

Jahra is particularly bullish about the improvements to security and capacity that the new technologies bring to the table and has spoken at LACNIC conferences about the company’s deployment of the technology.

Flow is also compliant, and a terse statement from Columbus Communications noted that: “Due to the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses throughout the world, CCTL readily supports the transition IPv6, and will fulfil its role in the adoption of IPv6 by its customers, partners and stakeholders.”

Digicel and TSTT did not respond to questions put to them about their compliance with IPv6.

IPv4 address space is already exhausted in the Asia/Pacific region, Europe will run out this year, the US in 2012 and Latin America and Africa will go dry in 2014.