It's surprising that Juniper will admit to being two years behind arch-rival Cisco at anything, let alone a development related to IPv6, the next-generation Internet Protocol.
After all, Juniper was boasting about enabling IPv6 across all of its platforms and interfaces back in 2002. Juniper was at the forefront of shipping IPv6-ready firewall and VPN gear in 2004. And Juniper was the first to have its routers certified as IPv6 capable by the U.S. Defense Department in 2007.
But when it comes to IPv6-enabling the content on its Web site -- www.juniper.net -- the network equipment vendor concedes that it will lag Cisco's Web site by as much as two years.
IPv6 is the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4.
In August, Cisco began testing IPv6 on a dedicated Web site: www.ipv6.cisco.com. Cisco said it is running IPv6 in alpha mode, and that it is working towards supporting IPv6 addresses on its main Web site, which is www.cisco.com.
Juniper says it won't create a separate Web site for end users with IPv6 addresses, which is a shortcut to providing IPv6 content. Besides Cisco, other sites that have taken this approach include Facebook, Netflix and Comcast.
"We could have our Web site accessible by IPv6 the same way that Cisco and others are doing it. We could have an intermediary gateway that receives IPv6 queries and translates them to IPv4. That's an extremely fast way to get it done, but it's also not in the spirit of trying to enable IPv6 on the Web," says Dave Ward, Juniper Fellow and the CTO of Juniper's Infrastructure Products Group.
Instead, Juniper plans to support IPv6 on its main Web site in a way that will be transparent to users with IPv6 addresses.
"We are working very hard to attempt to not expose the introduction of IPv6 to every end user. We're tying to make it as seamless as possible," Ward says.
Juniper is committed to native IPv6 support on its main Web site rather than creating an IPv6-only Web site. Juniper says it is launching internal IPv6 micro Web sites where it will test IPv6 and IPv4 content and routing transition strategies as well as to pilot its IPv6 Web site content.
Juniper's approach to IPv6-enabling its Web site will take time. The company says it won't commit to serving up IPv6 Web content until September 2012, which is the same time frame that the U.S. federal government plans to support IPv6 for its Web sites.
"It certainly could happen before [September 2012]," Ward says, adding that IPv6-enabling the company's Web site is just "one way to measure" Juniper's progress and competitiveness in the area of IPv6.
IPv6 is the biggest upgrade in the 40-year history of the Internet. Forward-looking carriers and enterprises are deploying IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices -- 2 to the 128th power.
As of October 2010, 95% of IPv4 address space has been allocated, according to Internet registries that delegate blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to carriers and enterprises. Experts say IPv4 addresses could run out as early as this December but will certainly be gone by the end of 2011.
The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and other Internet policymakers are urging Web site operators to support IPv6 by Jan. 1, 2012, or risk disenfranchising users with IPv6 addresses by providing them with slower, less-reliable service.
"In 2012, we expect to see new broadband customers being connected to the Internet via IPv6, and Web sites that are IPv6-enabled will have the best performance reaching those customers," says John Curran, president and CEO of ARIN.
No immediate impact
Juniper's decision to wait until September 2012 to offer IPv6 content won't have an immediate impact on the company.
"Only 1% of routes are reachable by IPv6. The number of DNS queries that are IPv6 is a half of a percent. Way, way less than 1% of the Internet is IPv6," Ward says, pointing out that IPv6-enabled Web sites don't perform as well as IPv4 Web sites. "There are a number of challenges to get there."
Instead of focusing on IPv6 Web content, Juniper is putting its energy into supporting native IPv6 as well as dual-stack configurations where IPv6 runs alongside IPv4 in all of its products. Juniper recently announced support for an emerging IPv4-to-IPv6 transition mechanism known as Dual-Stack Lite, and it has been a leader in another approach called 6PE for use with Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks.
"The killer application for IPv6 is access back to the IPv4 network," Ward says. "Our main focus from a technology point of view is the multi-decade-long transition we will have from IPv4 to IPv6…We're spending a huge amount of dollars on that."
Juniper is in the process of having various routers, switches and firewalls tested for compliance with the U.S. federal government's IPv6 profile, known as USGv6 , as well as running them through the latest IPv6-Ready tests.
A Juniper spokesman said the company "will be increasingly busy" in 2011 having its routers, switches and firewalls tested for IPv6 compliance by the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Lab and the ICSA Lab.
Juniper's spokesman also points out that after eight years of development, the IPv6 functionality in its products is "extensive." In the past year, the company's EX Series Ethernet Switches, SRX Series Services Gateways and new MX Series 3D Universal Edge Routers have added IPv6 capabilities.
Ward points out that Juniper is trying to provide the same functionality and performance for IPv6-based services that it provides for IPv4 services while also supporting all the necessary IPv4-to-IPv6 transition mechanisms, including gateways, tunneling and carrier-grade network-address translation.
"IPv6 needs to be line rate. It needs to be low latency. There can't be an impact on the end user," Ward says. " The big challenge is to make sure these twitch-sensitive video games are not impacted by the transition to IPv6…The key is to focus on having no performance degradation."
Still, it's interesting to note that Juniper, which has been a leader in IPv6 development for so many years, is putting off the one thing -- creation of IPv6 content -- that Internet policymakers most want to see occur to spur the upgrade to IPv6.
Juniper acknowledges this inconsistency, and it is leaving the door open to the idea of moving up its September 2012 deadline for IPv6-enabling its main Web.
"There is no content in IPv6," Ward agrees. "If you bought an IPv6-only service, there would be nowhere to go."
That would include, for now, www.juniper.net .