Editor's Note: This is the second article in a two-part story on how telecom and cable operators are deploying IPv6 as the pool of IPv4 addresses nears depletion. In part one, learn how large operators such as Comcast, Global Crossing and NTT America are completing their IPv6 transition plans and migrations
Operators can do only so much when deploying IPv6 to ensure a smooth transition from IPv4. While most operators seem to be on track with updating their infrastructure for IPv6 readiness, their overall success with the transition will also depend on cooperation from vendors, content providers and other network providers.
Comcast Corp has been testing and deploying IPv6 equipment and services for the past five years to ensure a "seamless" transition for subscribers and to meet its 2011 goal of starting to distribute IPv6 addresses to consumers en masse, according to John Jason Brzozowski, distinguished engineer and chief architect of IPv6 work at Comcast.
But all those years of work on routing tables, network design and back-end systems upgrades will be worthless if content providers don't upgrade their Web servers to be IPv6 capable soon, Brzozowski said.
"Being ahead of the curve a bit here, we find things perhaps sooner than other people do, and one of the things is the [lack of] availability and access to content over IPv6," he said. "A lot of the content networks and content providers really need to ramp up and enable v6 because if we provide connectivity and service to people's homes and there's nothing to be consumed, this is a bit of a challenge."
Brzozowki's concerns have eased over the last year as more large content providers have begun deploying IPv6. Earlier this year, Facebook and Google, which includes YouTube, went public with their IPv6 readiness. Netflix began streaming content over IPv6 last year, and eBay officials have said they are deploying IPv6 internally first, with plans to support IPv6 on their site next year. Meanwhile, the pool of IPv4 addresses is expected to dry up in less than a year, according to John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).
"It's in your interest -- as fast as possible -- to see Internet-based services and content move to IPv6 native because then it no longer has to go through your [network address] translation box," Curran said. "Every time you hear a consumer say, 'I need access to the Internet,' what you're hearing him say is, 'I need access to the IPv4 and the IPv6 Internet together' ... [because] who wants access in their living room that only goes to one part of the Internet?"
"When you're offering Internet services, it's not only prudent that the customer and the service provider can support [IPv6], but it's also important that the service provider's partners, such as peers, can [support IPv6] as well," Sewell said. "We have established special connections with these partner networks -- these peer networks -- so that we can exchange IPv6 addresses."
Ivan Pepelnjak, CCIE No. 1354 and chief technology advisor at NIL Data Communications, a consulting firm based in Slovenia, said service providers shouldn't worry too much about content providers' aggressiveness in deploying IPv6.
"Those [content providers] that can read the 'writing on the wall' and depend solely on the Internet for their income -- and don't want to lose eyeballs -- will be deploying IPv6 very quickly," Pepelnjak said. "Initially, when the number of IPv6-only clients is minimal, the content providers won't care. When that number reaches a few percentage points, it becomes the content providers' problem."
Deploying IPv6: What about vendor readiness?
Finding basic, carrier-class networking equipment with native IPv6 functionality is no longer a problem for operators, but finding it with the vendor you prefer is a challenge, Pepelnjak said. Vendors of equipment for some advanced services are also lagging with enabling IPv6 on their products.
"More things support IPv6 than people realize," Brzozowski said. "The pieces are available to folks if they look close enough or are willing to look at different products. We're evidence of that. We've enabled v6 in our network, and we didn't have to sacrifice functionality. We didn't have to cut corners from that point of view. We had to make purchasing decisions that were different, but we did what we needed to do."
At Global Crossing, engineers are working on upgrading the Web servers and load balancers in data centers that support its customer portal, uCommand, to be configured for IPv6, according to Dave Siegel, the operator's vice president of IP services product management.
But its IP video conferencing and SIP trunking services continue to natively support only IPv4 because the operator's main vendors -- Polycom and Sonus Networks -- have not yet provided them with IPv6-capable equipment, Siegel said.
"If it's an application that we provide that runs over a Web service or a Unix server, like DNS, then that is something we have direct control over enabling," Siegel said. "But if it's an application that's provided by a vendor and where it's hardware-specific … then that vendor does need to support IPv6 before we can [sell it]."
Operators will get what they want from vendors only by pressuring them to respond or by taking their business elsewhere, Pepelnjak said. Comcast successfully got one of its key vendors to manufacture IPv6-capable Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) modems "just because they decided they want them and [Comcast is] big enough [to carry influence]," he added.
"Until service providers start voting with their money, the situation won't change," Pepelnjak said. "After that, you'll see vendors scrambling to support IPv6 as soon as possible, [although] there will be lots of meaningless 'We will support everything' announcements with no real substance."
Back to part one: Telecom IPv6 transition plans: more than upgrading routers.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.