June 06, 2012

IPv6 Day, Not Another Y2K

Today, June 6 2012, is World IPv6 Day. It reminds me of another big event IT day, Y2K. If you were at a big company and particularly if you were in IT, that one probably stands out pretty clearly. Network vendors set up crisis management war rooms to monitor the situation as Y2K spread across timezones. IT teams were camped out in NOCs, poised for action. The world was set to end, airplanes were going to fall from the sky, the power grid was going to go down, and civilization itself was at risk. Breathless news anchors proclaimed possible TEOTWAWKI. The angst was palpable. In the end, however, it was pretty much a non-event.

IPv4 Address Exhaustion is different. While no airplanes will fall from the sky due to lack of an IP address, there is a real problem. Just like phone numbers, public, routable IP addresses must be unique. In 1981, 4.3 billion IP addresses probably seemed like a very reasonable number of addresses. By 2011, 4.3 billion was a confining restriction. With the last two address blocks being allocated on 31 January 2011, a theoretical problem became a very real one.

We have been both blessed and cursed by a workaround called NAT, Network Address Translation, which allows a large number of systems to hide behind a single public address. This has helped mitigate the impact of a sharply limited address space, but it has also encouraged foot-dragging. Some things, like HTTP, work pretty well over NAT. Other things, particularly things like instant messaging, which require realtime presence information, can have trouble traversing NAT. IPv6, with its virtually unlimited address space (3.4×1038  addresses), means that anything that needs a world routable address will have one and that NAT as a workaround for limited addresses will no longer be needed.

Another thing that has helped the lazy avoid the inevitable has been a growing (grey) market in IPv4 addresses. Recently Microsoft paid $7.5 million for 666,625 Nortel addresses. While APNIC and others may try to discourage the practice, they have not been able to stop it. Convenient in a way, but bad in others. Not only does it enable the postponement of the necessary, but it also may lead to some real routing challenges. Why not just avoid the pain by deploying IPv6?

With the vast address space, you get end-to-end connectivity, handy in a world of machine to machine communications. You also get address autoconfiguration, allowing IPv6 devices to communicate without needing a DHCP server to pass out addresses. With IPsec built in to the protocol, security even gets a boost.

Anyway, today, 6 June 2012, is World IPv6 Day. Extreme Networks is joining together with other organizations around the world to permanently enable IPv6 in our products and on our website. Members of our technical staff have worked with IPv6 since 1995. IPv6 capable Extreme Networks gear first shipped in July 2001 and all of our gear is IPv6 capable today.

extremenetworks.com is dualstack, reachable via IPv4 or IPv6. http://ipv6.extremenetworks.com is IPv6 only. We invite you to visit our website, preferably via IPv6 if you can. We also encourage you to deploy IPv6 in your network.

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  • I for one do not look forward to IPv6. It really comes down to one reason – the numbering scheme is much more difficult to remember (no DNS is not always available). I’m obviously not one of those religiously opposed to NAT, I really do minimal amounts of peer to peer (the only one I can think of is skype and that is for work – otherwise I’d not use skype at all). So from a personal (and even professional) standpoint IPv6 offers nothing but pain and frustration at this point. I can certainly understand those deploying new consumer networks are having issues with IP space. but for folks like me who just need small blocks of IPv4 for internet hosting such blocks are readily available. For inbound IPv6 when the time comes I plan to just do IPv6 to IPv4 NAT on my load balancers should be a simple solution that allows me to maintain an internal IPv4 network. Maybe by the time IPv6 really comes around I won’t be doing any network stuff anymore who knows. I still remember being excited when the BD10k had it’s first software release that enabled hardware accelerated IPv6, though I never took advantage of the feature.

    Hopefully someone can come up with a good way to do SSL virtual hosting and serve up multiple certs (e.g. certs for different domains – not situations that can be solved with a wildcard cert for a single domain) on a single IP that would stretch IPv4 out even more.

    • Andrew

      “For inbound IPv6 when the time comes I plan to just do IPv6 to IPv4 NAT”

      A few months ago, I started an informal poll with new customers. My question is, “How do you plan to deal with IPv6?” Not surprisingly, everyone gives a variation of Nate’s answer. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So simple. So easy.

      Unfortunately, the RFCs (e.g. RFC 2766) that tried to define a method for doing V4-V6 NAT have been relegated to the dustbin of history (i.e. “deprecated”) due to fundamental technical difficulties. And even before they died, they explicitly did not address private IP addresses (the 10.x, 172.16.x – 172.31.x, and 192.168.x addresses). So even if they had worked, they wouldn’t have given us “just NAT.”

      Now, the astute reader may point out that there is a NAT64 method. Does that save the game? Unfortunately not, because NAT64 is for IPv6 hosts that initiate conversations with IPv4 servers, not the other way around. It is definitely not a generic NAT.

      In short, “I’ll just use NAT” simply won’t work.

      Neither will a “wait-and-see” approach.

      As Jason writes in the article, IPv6 is not Y2K. It is happening as we speak. It has to happen, because Asia has a majority of the world’s population, but received only about 20% of the IPv4 addresses. Those billions are switching over to v6 because they don’t have a choice. For them, it’s v6 or nothing.

      Because Asia is switching to v6, more and more Western companies are going to have to if they want to continue doing business with their Asian partners. They may be dragged kicking and screaming and leaving fingerprints an inch deep in the doorjamb, but embrace v6 they will. And as they go v6, the Western companies that do business with them will have to as well, and so on, until it reaches all of us. Very simply, v6 is inevitable, and sooner rather than later. You will be assimilated, and resistance is futile.