Who's who in IPv6: the companies and people leading the way

The whole world has become interested in the next-generation Internet protocol gun to watch IPv6 in earnest. Here's one expert's list of the top thought leaders shaping IPv6 adoption.

IPv6 is on the minds of every network professional these days, and rightly so. While some vendors and service providers are woefully behind, others are leading the charge. We asked well-known IPv6 expert Ed Horley to name these leaders. Horley is co-chairman of the California IPv6 Task Force, is involved in the North American IPv6 Task Force and earns his living as principal solutions architect at Groupware Technology in Campbell, Calif. He lists the thought leaders for IPv6 among network equipment providers and service providers including CPE devices, routers/switches, load balancers, address management, content delivery networks and more. Got an idea for an article? Contact Network World Community Editor Julie Bort, jbort@nww.com.

TRAINING: Network World's Critical Path to IPv6 event is coming Dec. 13 in New York. E-mail for details. 

One of the questions people most commonly ask me is, "What companies are ahead in IPv6?" I'll go one better and offer my personal list of the companies -- and people -- I believe are leading the way for IPv6 adoption in both the network infrastructure and service provider markets.

Network infrastructure

One of the major complaints about customer premises equipment (CPE) is how long it has taken most manufactures to get devices with even limited IPv6 support on the market. CPEs need to support IPv6 so that residential service providers can deploy it. For that reason, D-Link earns kudos for bringing devices out earlier than most and with a wide variety of IPv6 transition technology support. While it's true that Linksys and Netgear now have IPv6 support (though somewhat limited in features), you need to pay attention to firmware and model numbers of all the brands. Another pat on the back goes to a smaller but strong player, gogo6, which makes an adapter that can be used by ISP clients with no modification to their IPv4 subscriber network. To find more information about the broadband CPE devices check out the IPv6 wiki page maintained by Frank Bulk.  

BACKGROUND: IPv6 on home routers and DSL/cable modems: FAIL

Fortunately for most enterprises and small businesses, the routing and switching market isn't as far behind as the CPE, so the leaders of IPv6 in these areas are the brands you probably already use today. Current products from Cisco, Juniper, Brocade (with its Foundry purchase) and now Dell (with its Force10 purchase) along with HP (with its 3COM purchase) all support IPv6 in varying levels, though some of these companies' older products do IPv6 better than others. Some older platforms don't support IPv6 at all, and even if they do there is a high likelihood these platforms are not optimized to run IPv6. One of the important factors to consider is how much memory is in the devices (remember that an IPv6 address is four times as big as an IPv4 address) and if the hardware ASIC is capable of doing anything with IPv6. If it's not, then it falls back to the central CPU to do all the IPv6 work and there are many cases where that is not ideal. 

I'll call out Cisco for its strong IPv6-capable product portfolio, especially in the routing and switching area. More important, it offers reference-validated design guides built out by the likes of Cisco's Shannon McFarland, co-author of "IPv6 for Enterprise Networks" by Cisco Press. McFarland is well-known in the IPv6 community and is a frequent presenter and technical panel participant. If you see an article with McFarland's name on it, take the time to read it. I'll also note that there are many in the IPv6 community who really like Juniper's SRX series for their IPv6 support.

READ: Shannon McFarland names the 6 biggest IPv6 deployment misconceptions

One of the most important areas of transition and translation technology for IPv6 is in the load balancers otherwise known as application delivery controllers (ADC). These products are so appealing because of their ability to proxy IPv6 traffic to IPv4 resources. For instance, the load balancer allows an incoming IPv6 http request to an IPv6 virtual IP to be mapped to an IPv4 Web server by the ADC. Then the ADC opens a back-end connection to the Web server via IPv4 but is able to present the content to the IPv6 host. This allows an enterprise to start making resources it already has on IPv4 available to IPv6 hosts without modifying its internal network infrastructure. F5 Networks was very early to offer this functionality and has a strong product portfolio. The up-and-coming manufacturer is A10 Networks. A10 has earned a solid reputation for its IPv6 transition technologies and I also give the company a thumbs-up for being active in IPv6 conferences and events.

LARRY CHAFFIN Q&A: A conversation with John McAdam of F5 Networks

IPv6 has a huge address range and one of the biggest challenges is managing that many IP addresses. Also, unlike with IPv4 where IT professionals could simply memorize important addresses, an IPv6 address is enormous and expressed in hexadecimal format (for example, 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334; how many of those are you going to remember?). Manually typing out IPv6 addresses is prone to error and is what makes DNS such a critical tool in IPv6 deployments. The DDI - DNS, DHCP and IP Address Management (IPAM) vendors realized early on that IPv6 was going to be a challenge for many enterprise and service providers to manage and maintain. 

For the enterprise market, I'd name the leader here as Infoblox. It has upgraded its existing product to include many IPv6 features and functions. Infoblox has also established an IPv6 Center of Excellence that include DNS expert Cricket Liu and ARIN advisory council member Owen DeLong, who is the IPv6 evangelist at Hurricane Electric. Infoblox's competitor is Bluecat Networks, and this company's technical advisory council member, Silvia Hagen, knows her stuff, too. She is the author of "IPv6 Essentials" by O'Reilly Press. I would not be surprised to see a lot of heated competition between Infoblox and Bluecat Networks regarding IPv6. In the service provider IPAM market, my pick is 6connect. 6connect offers unique functions that specifically address the needs of service providers, such as providing IPv6 prefix delegation to allow CPEs to get an IPv6 network block assigned to it when it joins a network. It also maps IPv6 overlays on IPv4 to do efficient dual-stack deployments.

ADVICE: How to implement IPv6 in a Windows environment: an expert guide

Service providers

Possibly the biggest challenge for the adoption of IPv6 is actually being able to get native IPv6 support from your current service provider. There are several ISPs that are ahead in the adoption curve (that have more than just a regional footprint) and are impacting what is happening in the IPv6 landscape. For residential broadband customers, Comcast has had limited IPv6 trials ongoing since late 2009 with much broader regional trials happening now. If you are a Comcast customer and interested in its trials you can get more information at its website, http://www.comcast6.net/. The point person at Comcast is John Jason Brzozowski, IPv6 chief architect. Brzozowski speaks internationally about IPv6 and what Comcast is doing for its deployment.

MORE: Comcast offers IPv6 in Michigan

Cable competitor Cox Communications also belongs on my list. Subscribers can request to participate in its IPv6 trials, though they have to ask through their local account team. The good news for Cox subscribers is the addition of Stan Barber as the lead IPv6 architect. Barber is the chairman of the Texas IPv6 Task Force and has been involved in IPv6 education for years. For businesses with requirements for multihoming and BGP peering, the landscape for IPv6 is very different than it is for IPv4. First, getting your existing ISP to provide IPv6 peering might not be possible today depending on where your service provider is in its migration and upgrade process. Second, you need to take into consideration how well-connected your provider is to other IPv6 providers.

For instance, Hurricane Electric has a remarkable 33% of both Transit/Upstream AS (Autonomous System) numbers in the routing table along with the same percentage number for OriginAS, and as these numbers indicate, it has the most impact on IPv6 peering of them all. This will change over time as bigger providers get IPv6 deployed nationwide and internationally, but it means that in the short term, if you want to have significant IPv6 BGP peering then Hurricane Electric must be on your short list. It turns out the company happens to be a really good IPv6 Netizen, too. It offers a free IPv6 tunnel broker services through http://www.tunnelbroker.net/ and also by providing IPv6 BGP peering for those who cannot get native IPv6 BGP peering through their existing providers. To top it all off Hurricane Electric has two employees to pay attention to: Owen DeLong, the company's IPv6 evangelist, and Martin Levy, director of IPv6 strategy. Both speak and travel widely advocating IPv6.

Other top U.S. IPv6-enabled carriers are NTT America, Sprint, Verizon, Global Crossing and Level 3, and the list will continue to expand over the next few years. Make sure you are paying attention to how each of your carriers is peering in regard to IPv6, which is often very different then IPv4.

In the U.S. cellular carrier market, T-Mobile and Verizon have been the most active in discussions around IPv6 and how it will be utilized within their networks. Verizon appears to have it tied to its 4G LTE rollout plans. T-Mobile has been actively testing IPv6 and transition technologies. Sprint has stated support for IPv6 on its network in 2012 while AT&T has not had any clear IPv6 transition statements that I have seen to date outside of saying it expects the majority of its network to be off IPv4 by 2020. All of the major handset operating system manufacturers have support for IPv6 in their OSs.

SURVEY: Most enterprises will be on IPv6 by 2013

For enterprises using content delivery networks, I have some good news. All the major CDNs have IPv6 enabled in some capacity. Limelight Networks was early in IPv6 deployment with Akamai following after. You will have to check with your CDN to determine what services it can make available via IPv6 but for companies that rely of these networks to distribute content around the world, you should have access to services you can deploy today. More important, it is good for the rest of us that consume content to know that we will be available to start consuming it over IPv6 connections.

Ed Horley is a principal solutions architect at Groupware Technology in the San Francisco Bay Area. Horley is actively involved in IPv6, serving as the co-chairman of the California IPv6 Task Force and being active with the North American IPv6 Task Force. Horley is a Microsoft MVP and has spent the last 15 years working in networking as an IT professional. He is involved in the Pacific IT Professionals Users Group, the largest IT pro user group in Northern California. Horley enjoys umpiring women's lacrosse when he isn't playing around on IPv6 networks. Contact him at ed@howfunky.com or check out his blog, HowFunky.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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