Happy World IPv6 Day!

Almost 20 years after Tim Berners-Lee posted a summary of his World Wide Web project on the newsgroup, there are more than two billion users worldwide, and billions more web pages. It has transformed the way we socialize, conduct business, and even changed the way we do science. But unfortunately, the number of available Internet addresses has not grown at the same place to accommodate these changes.


The number of Internet addresses is fixed because of the way the Internet operates: data is routed through the Internet in packets that use numeric addresses to encode its origin and its destination. The layer of communication at this level is called Internet Protocol (IP), originally developed by Vint Cerf, a program manager at the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and now Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist of Google, USA, and member of numerous boards including as Commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010.

IPv4 addresses, which are currently used, have a 32-bit integer value, capable of supporting only about four billion unique addresses. Twenty years ago, four billion seemed like a large number. In February 2011, however, the groups that manage IP addresses - Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) - announced that the last IPv4 blocks had been assigned to the Regional Internet Registries. And just two months later, the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre released its final batch of addresses to the region.

The solution to this long-anticipated problem is to replace IPv4 with IPv6, a 128-bit system that offers 240 billion, billion, billion, billion Internet addresses. IPv6 was first described in 1998, but deployment has been slow thus far. Now, with worldwide exhaustion of IPv4 addresses expected by the end of 2011, this is no longer the case.

Switching the LHC grid to to IPv6
As IPv6 is phased in, it will coexist with IPv4. Adoption by Internet services and web companies has moved at a snail’s pace – understandably so, as it requires changing the language of every device connected to the web. Currently, only 0.34% of all Internet users are capable of running on IPv6.

This is a huge problem that all computing grids will also have to tackle, as they require IP addresses to transfer data between users all over the world. If the computing grid at the LHC remained on IPv4, for example, “We would be unable to communicate with some of our users, in particular Asia Pacific,” said Jean-Michel Jouanigot, CERN’s IT Communication Systems Group Leader. “CERN would be unable to fulfill its mission, which is to give access to all our users.”
“We started, more than a year ago, an aggressive plan to be IPv6 ready at the infrastructure level. This will last several more years, and will require significant effort to test all devices and systems and adapt our network management framework. But all the applications - home made, public domain, and commercial - will need even more resources to be adapted,” Jouanigot said.

Today, there are so many requests for IP addresses that companies requesting new ones need to justify their reasons. “This is the trigger for change,” Jouanigot said. “Large corporations have been hesitant to spend millions to change their network equipment. Although the protocol was defined some time ago, its implementation has been immature and not all devices are ready.”
“This situation is analogous to the millennium bug problem,” Jouanigot said, referring to the late 1990s, when it was thought computer systems would crash when reaching the year 2000. “Today’s IPv6 task is an even larger job.”

To help facilitate the switch, the Internet Society has set up World IPv6 day. On 8 June, the W3C, Google, Facebook, Limelight Networks and others piloted a global 24-hour ‘test flight’ of IPv6. The aim is to motivate Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating-system vendors and web companies to prepare for IPv6. Accepting this standard is the only way for the web to remain sustainable for future generations.

The full version of the article was published on 8 June, on ISGTW.

You can test if your computer network is IPv6 ready here.


by Adrian Giordani (iSGTW)