Internet's biggest issue? IPv6 transition, new ARIN CEO says

ISP exec Curran takes the helm of the North American registry as IPv4 addresses are poised to run out

We spoke with John Curran, the new president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, about why it's so important for enterprises to start preparing their public-facing Internet services to support IPv6.

Veteran ISP executive John Curran is the new president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, a coordinating body that allocates IP addresses and related autonomous system numbers to carriers and enterprises in North America. Curran's previous high-profile posts include CTO and COO of ServerVault, CTO for XO Communications, and CTO for BBN/GTE Internetworking. Curran was a founding member of the ARIN Board of Trustees and served as its chairman from August 1997 until December 2008. 

Curran is taking charge of ARIN at an important juncture in the non-profit's12-year history. ARIN is as the crossroads of the transition from IPv4, which has been the Internet's main communications protocol since its inception 30 years ago, to the long-anticipated upgrade known as IPv6. The remaining IPv4 addresses are scheduled for depletion in two years, which will require carriers and enterprises to support IPv6. IPv6 offers vastly more IP addresses than IPv4 along with built-in security and enhanced support for peer-to-peer and video streaming applications.

We spoke with Curran about why it's so important for enterprises to start preparing their public-facing Internet services to support IPv6. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

How will your role as ARIN President and CEO differ from your previous role as chair of the ARIN Board of Trustees?

ARIN provides an essential service for ISPs and large enterprises that need IP addresses and autonomous system numbers. It's an operational job, and one that requires a high level of focus. I felt that it wasn't reasonable to do that and the chairman's job. As of today, ARIN President and CEO will be my permanent role. I'm still on the ARIN Board of Trustees, but we have a new chair, Paul Vixie [president of the Internet Systems Consortium]. My focus is on the day-to-day operations and making sure ARIN is there for the ISP and enterprise community.

Why take on the job as ARIN president and CEO at this point in time?

If you look at the challenge that the Internet faces going forward — the short number of years we have from being on top of IPv4 depletion and the whole IPv6 transition issue — that makes it more important than ever to have all of the regional registries including ARIN running smoothly and doing all the necessary preparation work. IPv6 motivated me, quite frankly. It will be important to have ISPs and enterprises look at their public facing Internet infrastructures and figure out how to support IPv6 if they want to have their services available to the whole Internet.

How will ARIN change under your leadership?

ARIN has been running fairly well. I don't expect any dramatic changes. I bring the perspective of someone who has run two successful carriers with very large nationwide networks and recent experience with a hosting company. I expect to keep the customer focus at ARIN, and to perhaps sharpen it.

What is the most pressing issue facing ARIN today?

IPv4 address depletion is the most pressing issue facing the Internet community today and for many years to come. The fact that we've been ready for this for a decade doesn't make the transition that we will be going through over the next five years all that much easier. The fact that we've been ready for 10 years adds to the complacency. Rather than averting a sense of crisis, it's caused a lot of people to question: Is this going to happen? Yes, we are going to run out of free IPv4 addresses, and organizations that want to be able to make use of the Internet will need to support IPv6.

ARIN has always been a behind-the-scenes organization. Do you see that changing in the future?

ARIN will continue to operate behind the scenes, but the very nature of the challenge ahead of us with the depletion of IPv4 free space will cause the regional registries and the entire Internet community to be much more visible to the business community. Businesses that are building an infrastructure based on the Internet and don't realize that a change is in front of them are in for a surprise.

What is your view of IPv6 transition in North America?

There's a lot of work going on, particularly in the carriers. The carriers obviously need to work aggressively to make their infrastructures support both IPv4 and IPv6, and I know all the major carriers have plans to do that. We're just now beginning to see work on the applications at the edge of the network. The Web servers, mail servers, firewalls and intrusion-detection systems that support IPv6 are beginning to make their way into the enterprise, government and content providers. There's a lot of groundwork going on. We'll see more visible activity as organizations take their Web servers and e-mail servers and make them dual stack to support IPv4 and IPv6. Could more be done? Absolutely. There are organizations that haven't begun planning their public-facing IPv6 connectivity, and that work should begin immediately.

If you were addressing a room full of U.S. CIOs, what would you advise them about IPv6?

What I would be telling them is that the Internet is going to have two protocols on it — IPv4 and IPv6 — and over time the IPv6 one is going to grow a lot faster than the IPv4 one. Unless they want to get caught on a backwater of the Internet, they need to take their public-facing Internet services – the ones that support their partners and customers — and make them both IPv4 and IPv6 enabled. It's not that hard to do, but it does require work.

Is there anything else significant going on at ARIN besides IPv6 transition?

One of the things that ARIN needs to focus on is making sure that its services are easy to use by the Internet community. That's an operational matter. We just announced our ARIN online initiative. Clients can come online and update their registration information and submit tickets. We're going to continue in that vein. ARIN is going to get more aggressive about using Internet technology.

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