IPv6 is not a pipedream. Founder of the IPv6 Forum Latif Ladid took time out from the IPv6 summit in Canberra to talk to Computerworld about why the new Internet Protocol is a pie to be consumed here and now.
IPv6 has been talked about for years - is it still a pie in the sky or is it finally a reality?
Well you talk about a pie in the sky - the Internet started from a beep in the sky. The US didn't know what it was - but it was the launch of Sputnik by the USSR (the first artificial earth satellite. It took the US about a year to come up with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to look into developing new technology. A series of events led them to come up with the TCP/IP protocol in 1973. They worked on this with a lot of experts and engineers and by 1978 they had designed IP much as we know it today.
It then took them about five years to promote it before people began switching from the old APRA with just 2 to the power of eight address spaces to the new version that we have today. They issued a notice that by January 1 1983, the new Internet would be switched on, but even then many users did not know about it until six months later. Even then, it still remained within research and academic institutions until it was opened to the public as the World Wide Web in 1992.
So you can see it took more than 10 years to switch over back then and it involved a smaller number of people, all of whom were computer and technology experts.
How did IPv6 come about?
By the day the Internet was opened to the public, researchers realized that half the address space was already in use by research, so the address space would soon run out. Registries were opened up in Europe and much later in Asia and the US and by 1995 the Internet Society was developed and ICANN as we know it today started in 1998.
From 1992 to 1995 there was a call to all Internet researchers and engineers to come up with the next IP version that would primarily deliver extra IP space. There were three proposals. There were probably about 20 people working on IPv6 and virtually 3000 on the other two proposals solutions, of which only one was selected. Obviously when you select one out of such a big number there will be a lot of solutions rejected. That was the beginning of the fragmentation of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Where does Network Address Translation (NAT) fit in to the picture?
While waiting for IPv6 to mature, some people decided to design a time-stalling tactic that would ensure IP address space did not run out. This is where NAT comes in. I think NAT worked well to keep the Internet going and it also attracted the telecomms world to adopt the Internet as it gave them "walled gardens" and they were able to sell their IP address space on to customers who had to connect through them. So it has attracted a bigger Internet community.
By 1998 IPv6 was mature and stable, but we did not see adoption happening because in the mean time NAT, which was introduced as a temporary fix, had almost become its own protocol. It's then when we said - OK, since NAT has deferred the deployment of IPv6, we have to go out there and really market and promote IPv6 around the world as the true second version of the Internet.
There is a debate now between those that support IPv6 and those that support NAT, as NAT has become an important driver for the Internet. To a certain extent, it is easier to deploy, but it is a vision of the Internet that is no more what it used to be, so end-to-end is not possible and we depend upon service providers.
The Internet was not designed like this. It was designed to enable peer-to-peer and VoIP. In the meantime, through NAT, telecomms companies are offering VoIP but they want to bill you for it, but the Internet was not designed with any billing mechanism. When you connect to the Internet you pay anyway, so why should you pay for more services? This is the big debate. The Internet was not designed for telecomms companies, it was designed for everyone to share expensive CPU power. When you share expensive resources you can do anything.
So peer-to-peer functions and VoIP will be easier over IPv6?
When you look at the traffic on the Internet, 72 percent is peer-to-peer, so that is what people want. People think 'I want to send a piece of music directly to a friend. I don't want to pay someone else to do it for me.' At the moment peer-to-peer is facilitated by a server. We need to use that server in order to talk to each other. With IPv6 we won't need that server anymore. We will each have our own IPv6 address open all the time and can decide who to publish it to. We will in effect each become little ISPs and we decide who will connect to us and who won't.
It's like having a door with a key, but you don't give your key to just anyone. With this concept you will be able to design all kinds of new models over the Internet. Today (with IPv4) we have a house without a door and without a key. So what we do is create wire fences next to the door - but that is intrusive, and it makes it complicated to open the door when you want to. The new concept with IPv6 will be similar to Skype - but that is facilitated by somebody else and they are using complicated technology to do what IPv6 will do automatically and simply. They have to wait until you connect in order to find you and know that you are there before they try to connect you with [someone else]. This will all be cut out with IPv6.
So where do service providers fit into an IPv6 world, will they become redundant?
No, because you will always need to connect through an ISP. They will not go away. I need an ISP, I just don't need someone else like Skype to offer me additional services over my connection as I will be able to do it all myself.
So your vision is that the end user will be more empowered with IPv6?
Everyone will be a consumer and a producer. So yes, it will empower the end users. Instead of being slaves to the network, we become peers to anyone else. This is the next stage of culture that we have not yet reached. Many people now find it too hard to produce their own Web sites, for example, but that will change.
IPv4 with NAT is a transition model until people become educated and sophisticated enough to become peers themselves.
How far away is the global IPv6 community?
I think you have about 40 different [uptake] speeds [in various countries]. First one would be Japan, followed closely by Korea, Taiwan, and China, then you have the Western World including Australia. But then within each country you have different speeds. So ISPs are a lot faster at migrating and the industry is lagging behind.
Within industry you have different speeds as well. So you have the manufacturers of routers and networking equipment who are mostly up to speed. The majority of IPv6 device manufacturers are in Asia, primarily in Japan, Korea and Taiwan and followed by the US and Europe.
Asia will be dominating the IPv6 market, largely because [its users] understood early on in the piece that there is value in taking the next step.
Overall, I would say that the show is happening in Asia, and in five years time you can expect China to be the biggest IPv6 user base in the world. By 2010 they will have two or three hundred million people using IPv6. Today the Western world will be taken by surprise. We are staying in denial. When mobile ring tones came out for instance, the Western world laughed at it, but now they are everywhere.
What is holding western countries back from adopting?
When you think you are advanced, you have the perception that you have done everything and you become relaxed. This is normal. It has happened many times in history and is happening now with IPv6 in the Western world. We have become focused on the instant gratification of making money. The end point is money, not technology or innovation.
So, we got into services. We have become a group of couch potato nations - 'I have a job. It's OK. I don't need to invent much. If someone asks me for a service I'll sub-contract it to someone cheaper and then sell it for a steal.' That is the current business model and attitude, which is not good for progress or innovation. Nations that have stopped doing research will not progress.
What is the most significant benefit that IPv6 offers the world?
Global connectivity. Currently we have less than 15 percent world-wide Internet penetration, and we have used most of the address space. If you look at the Western world, we have more than 50 percent penetration. In total we have close to a billion people connected to the Internet. So it is a false perception that we have full Internet penetration. We have six billion people on the planet. When the Internet protocol was designed back in 1980 there were 4.3 billion address spaces; it was already insufficient for the population. By 2050 we will be nearly 10 billion people. But there are not only people. There are things. Billions and billions of devices that will service these people. Just within a home you might have 250 points that will be connected for various purposes. In a car or a train you might have 100 points connected. In a multi-story building for instance, you will have 20,000 points that you can connect - sensors, lights, security, air conditioning - all of these things that are today manually controlled can be connected on a network. The new version needs to give this broader, deeper scalability to be capable of delivering this future. That is called progress.
Some people think that we have done enough. That is an incumbent attitude. It is a lack of vision. There are about 10,000 people (with vision) who have been working on IPv6. IPv6 will connect everyone and everything, and it will empower the end user to become a producer. The culture of the Internet will become far more interesting than it is today. At the moment you are just a tourist on the Internet. You connect and disconnect. IPv6 will be a permanent connection. You will be constantly connected. The number of applications that will be possible because of this is limitless.
For example, think of online banking - you will be able to be notified every time a transaction is made. You do not have to be paranoid about it anymore. So many things that happen in a manual way now will be a service to you. You will also be a publisher and producer. The Internet has a habit of cracking industries. For example Napster etc has cracked the music industry. The next thing will be [high definition] TV. The list will go on and the end user will become increasingly empowered.
How does and will IPv6 most impact the IT industry, and IT professionals?
IPv6 will impact the IT industry from a value proposition viewpoint and from a scalability perspective. The new value-add that IPv6 will put on the table is a comprehensive reduction of complexity of networks to enable deployment of new end-to-end services and thereby create innovations to generate new revenues at much reduced costs. The scalability will bring the IT industry the much needed abundance and scalable address space to move into commodity networking and deployment of large scale networks like sensor networks and RFID to mention just two.
What is the best way to migrate to IPv6?
A strategic transition roadmap should be laid out to clearly link transition to both new revenue generation and cost reduction. The obvious plan should fit in with a technology refresh and enable smooth transition planning so as to avoid last minute haste and thereby costly chaos.
The IPv6 Forum Downunder together with ISOC Australia will work on a general-purpose national transition roadmap in the next couple of months, so industry players should join this effort and be a contributor in this non-trivial undertaking.