Transition to IPv6 will be painful, vendor warns

Moving an organization from an IPv4-based network to one that can also handle the new IPv6 protocol won’t be a walk in the park, an executive with an IP management software company has warned Canadian independent Internet service providers.

“Many people are going to tell you the IPv6 transition is relatively easy,” Aaron Hughes, chief technology officer at 6Connect Inc., of Redwood City, Calif., told the ISP Summit in Toronto. “I’m here to tell you that’s not true.

“In the smaller companies it isn’t easier than the larger companies, that’s for sure. It’s going to take real planning, company resources, money, time, code changes, changes to your training, your staff, implementation changes.”

“It will be painful, he said at one point.”

“And if you’re not already well into this process, you’re already behind.”

Some ISPs say they have no business case to shift now to dual-stack mode, Hughes said, because customers aren’t asking for it. “Who cares?” he replied. “Why should your customers know anything about IPv6. It’s a transport protocol.” They just want to know if the devices they plug into the network will work.

The real business case, he said, is survivability. “This is about continuing to exist .. it is your fiduciary responsibility, it is your technical responsibility to survive.”

Hughes’ advice wasn’t just for service providers. In many cases the organizational resources needed to prepare for a dual stack world applies to enterprises as well.

Internet address can be need for everything that runs on the Internet, from printers two Web pages. But IPv4 addresses are almost exhausted, meaning the world has to shift to IPv6, a next-generation protocol with more address space.

However, IPv6 isn’t backwards compatible, so most networks – corporate as well as service provider – will have to run the both in what’s called dual stack mode. But to future-proof networks, devices that handle Internet traffic – including routers and switches – as well as devices themselves will have to be able to handle IPv6.

For a service provider, Hughes said, that raises huge questions, some of which they are already grappling with. For example, what will ISPs do about customer-rented modems and VoIP phones the provider is responsible for? Will the manufacturer have an IPv6 software upgrade? If not, who replaces the devices and at what cost?

What about customer-owned modems? What about devices customers uses on the ISP’s networks like game consoles?

“This is not just for your CPE (customer premise equipment),” he added. “This is for every piece of software you have” — including billing and operational applications – every piece of hardware you have: Core, edge.”

There are equipment manufacturers that have standards and guidelines to help enterprises and service providers, he added, but they can’t help everyone. You may have to dump a vendor who can’t help your transition, he said, or who in your opinion won’t be able to help your and your customers need in the future.

“It’s not ‘wait on the vendor,’ but push the vendor and really evaluate those long-term relationships.”

Nor, he added, should ISPs wait for their wholesale access provider to be dual-stack-ready before working on this problem.

Training IT and network staff about IPv6 will be a challenge, he said, in part because most organizations don’t have regular training programs. It’s even worse for running a dual stack network because there isn’t a lot of solid information.

[Earlier, the conference was told the Internet Society is about to open an IPv6 portal on its Web site to be a resource for IT managers.] Forget about waiting for a case study of how a large ISP moved to a dual stack architecture. Why, he asked, would a competitor share such information? And it probably won’t apply to your business. There may be one for the network or backbone, he said, but not for internal processes or how to transition customers.

“This is not a reasonable excuse” to delay. “You are to some extent on your own, and you’re going to have to make some mistakes twice.”

Some of those at the conference didn’t seem worried. Tom Copeland, who owns in Coburg, Ont., found Hughes urgent tone “a little bit surprising.” His company has done some IPv6 work, including creating a test of a peering tunnel to transfer IPv4 traffic. At the moment he sees no need to implement the technology, but he expects that to change in the next six months.

An earlier session on IPv6 gave the impression transitioning won’t be that hard, he noted, while Hughes gave the opposite message.

Will Gasteiger, president of Sudbury-based ViaNet, said his ISP has done some preliminary work on IPv6, but after hearing Hughes realized “it’s something we’d better get going on.”

On the other hand Erik Zweers, manager of Internet operations at Execulink Telecom of Burgessville, Ont., said his firm is well underway with IPv6 work, having just finished a number of network core upgrades. Next are internal systems. “It’s either going to be difficult or easy,” he said. “I’ll find out as I go forward.”

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