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Analysis: Does IPv6 present special challenges to smaller service providers?

IPv6 Day will be a "test flight" day to motivate ISPs, equipment manufacturers, OS vendors and Web companies to make the transition to IPv6

Yesterday’s blog on IPv6 triggered a lot of responses to my email box; after all, for the Internet to grow, IPv6 is necessary for improving the overall Internet experience. For that reason, not only do ISPs and service providers across the board need to transition to IPv6, but also enterprise and individual consumers, which will need routers and gateways that support IPv6 if they are to participate in what we will call “next-gen Internet.” It’s not only the service providers and their customers that can no longer afford to be lackadaisical, but also their vendors. As written today in, for example, Cisco still doesn’t support IPv6 in some of its consumer routers.

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Though the topic has been hyped enough, one of the more neglected angles has been the challenges “the transition” will have on smaller service providers. Most smaller players, understandably, don’t like to talk “on the record” about any weaknesses, so I decided to pose some of the key questions to an IP/Ethernet network solutions provider that could more publicly talk about what the challenges are for smaller providers.

“Smaller players don’t really know what to do yet, and they are more concerned about this because of their limited knowledge base and resources. Unlike a Tier1 that can choose once and deploy nationally, smaller companies have to be careful about how they approach the transition to Ipv6,” said Mike Savory, senior technical marketing engineer at Allied Telesis, which provides fiber-to-the-home network solutions to telcos serving up triple play in rural areas of North America, Europe and Asia. “We’ve got equipment that is IPv6- ready in our core network, but we haven’t deployed much in the way of IPv6 in North America. Rather, we see the most action in Japan, China and India, and parts of Europe.”

He deemed it a “chicken-and-egg” scenario where the smaller telcos in North America didn’t take action because they didn’t see customers asking for it, and customers didn’t ask for it because they could get the content they needed without it. “The multi-year ‘parallel’ roll out of IPv4 and IPv6 just hasn’t happened as planned,” reminded Savory.

As a result, he said, there is a great need for education, which he thinks will be facilitated in the next few months:

IPv6 Day will be interesting, as it will reveal some of the bumps in the road in terms of what services—which worked the previous day—will no longer work,” said Savory, referring to June 8, when Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai, Juniper and Limelight will be among the many organizations offering a “test flight” day to motivate ISPs, equipment manufacturers, OS vendors and Web companies to make the transition to IPv6. “Education is needed, and this day might be revealing in that service providers and customers using tunneled access to different networks will be able to see what customers of theirs are running ipv6 and which ones are not.”

Finding out which customers are running IPv6 will help determine what equipment is needed and the scope of investment required—centrally and perhaps in customer homes needing upgrades.

But, for the Internet to grow and evolve, all information providers have to be on the same “highway,” which Savory believes will happen if there is flexibility in access to both IPv4 and IPv6 through a “dual stack” approach that allows people to come online as they choose, and through the access channels they are used to.

According to Savory, if everyone—content consumers and content providers—are going to be on the “same Internet” with the same “experience,” then all stakeholders have to avoid a situation where there are IPv6-only clients at a time when so many are still running IPv4. “That means service providers should maintain access to IPv4 as their embedded base transitions,” said Savory. However, it is possible North American operators still won’t really feel the ‘crunch’ to be aggressive, as they probably can get IPv4 allocations for another year or so, even though the pool has dried up.

“The smaller service providers know they have to make the transition—internally and with their customers. The key is helping them know ‘how’ to do it,” added Savory.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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