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Thursday February 25, 2010

Laying the ground work for IPv6


IPv4, which controls IP addresses on the Web, is showing its age. Time to upgrade.

By NORSUZANA HARUN

Many of us would still remember the trepidation that resulted from anticipated problems related with the Y2K (Year 2000) bug and the major adjustments and preparations that were made globally to avoid it.

As with Y2K, the Internet is now facing a situation that requires global adjustment.

For the Internet to work, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are required for machines to connect to each other. As more and more devices become Internet-enabled, the explosion in the demand for IP addresses is inevitable.

Take Malaysia for example. Currently, mobile penetration stands at over 100% while PC penetration is around 45% and there are now more than 16 million Internet users in the country.

Globally, the number of Internet users has mushroomed to 1.7 billion — a 380% increase — between 2000 and 2009.

The Internet currently runs on the first major addressing structure called Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), which was developed almost 30 years ago. IPv4 was designed to accommodate four billion IP addresses.

However, we are running out of IPv4 addresses. The Number Resource Organisation (NRO), which oversees global allocation of IP addresses, announced early this year that less than 10% of the available IPv4 address remains.

Current estimates suggest that by 2012, all of the left over addresses will be used up. Also, IPv4 has been remarkably resilient, but it is beginning to have problems.

The good news is, a new IP addressing structure — IP version 6 (IPv6) — that can address the issues faced by IPv4 is available.

No other alternative

An obvious benefit of IPv6 is an exponentially larger address space. IPv6 offers a maximum of 340 undecillion (trillion trillion trillion) IP addresses.

Early adoption of IPv6 is also being advocated because there are many technical advantages. IPv4 is designed for data, whereas IPv6 is designed with multimedia (data, voice, and video) applications in mind.

Other capabilities of IPv6 include better support for mobile devices, built-in security, more flexibility and efficiency such as “plug and play” through auto-configuration, which allows workstations to configure their own address with the help of a local IPv6 router.

Clearly, deploying IPv6 on a global scale is vital to the Internet industry. However, the uptake to date has been relatively slow. Globally, a total of 154 country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are already supporting IPv6.

However, a recent APNIC survey conducted with 600 respondents from 44 Asia Pacific economies revealed that nearly two-thirds are not adequately prepared for the transition to IPv6. (APNIC is one of five regional Internet registries charged with ensuring the fair distribution and responsible management of IP addresses and related resources.)

It is also important to note that in every implementation of IPv6, DNS servers are the first physical devices that have to be upgraded to support IPv6, otherwise the Internet would not be able to fully utilise IPv6. This is because DNS does the mapping of human readable names to IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

As the registry, registrar and sole administrator for .my domain names in Malaysia, .my Domain Registry has supported IPv6 since 2008 and is ready to accept domain name registrations with IPv6 DNS. However, only 208 .my domain names (less than 1% of all .my domain names) currently support IPv6.

Also, according to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM), only 12 ISPs (Internet service providers) have completed the second phase of the stipulated three-phase IPv6 Compliance Audit.

As a member of Malaysia IPv6 working group, .my Domain Registry has provided its IPv6 lab as the venue for one of the exercises needed to be done in the second phase test. Parties interested to find out more or make use of this lab facility can send e-mail to tni@domainregistry.my.

Hand in hand

.my Domain Registry and the SKMM, which is industry ­regulator, are making efforts to encourage greater adoption of IPv6 by local players — such as domain name and web-hosting providers — so as to increase IPv6 usage in Malaysia.

This will also help build more momentum and support for the technology. These efforts include frequent meetings to provide updates, build awareness of IPv6 and discuss any migration issues or challenges that .my Domain Registry can provide assistance with.

.my Domain Registry has also conducted a series of IPv6 awareness programmes for the public and private sectors, to further drive IPv6 usage in the country.

It is crucial that businesses in Malaysia begin adopting IPv6 now. To ignore IPv6 is to risk their medium- to long-term business viability. Companies that don’t start working towards being IPv6-compatible risk being left behind or face huge bills for last minute work.

Before IPv6 addresses can be used, networks, services and products need to make changes — requiring time, money and training.

As IPv4 and IPv6 can’t directly communicate with each other, systems need to be configured to include transition mechanisms, such as dual stack that support both IPv4 and IPv6 allowing for gradual migration.

Other considerations include equipment (because those that are more than five years old would have potential issues), resolution of local domain names, as well as the IPv6 readiness and connectivity of upstream Internet providers.

Note: The author is technology and innovation manager at .my Domain Registry.

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