Adventures in IPv6 Web Hosting

My last post talked about the need for enterprise network operators, even if they think they will not need IPv6 for their internal networks in the foreseeable future, to take into account their public-facing servers. Although there are few IPv6 users trying to reach those servers at present, their numbers will grow over the next few years. You need to be ready to serve them.

You might think that adding IPv6 capability to your public servers is a reasonably easy task, and therefore something you can put off until there is an identifiable need.  The planning might indeed be simple, but carrying out those plans might not be.

I want to share with you my own experiences trying to make my little company website IPv6 accessible, as an object lesson. I haven’t successfully accomplished this yet, so this will be an ongoing, occasional post as new chapters are added to the story.

My story started about a year ago. In the spirit of “eating my own dogfood,” I figured that if I’m going to spout off so often in this blog about the need to get ready for IPv6 – not to mention the amount of consulting work I do in this area – my own website certainly should be IPv6 accessible.

Like most small companies, my website and e-mail are outsourced. My provider is Network Solutions, and in general I’ve been happy with both the price and the service. My first step was to search the Network Solutions support website for any information on IPv6 support. I couldn’t find any, so I was pretty sure they didn’t support it. I do, however, know that their network connectivity is through NTT/Verio, which has long been IPv6 capable, so I had hope.

Late last year I sent a message to their technical support group, asking if their web servers support IPv6. Here’s the message I received from their Technical Support Specialist:

“Thank you for contacting Network Solutions. We are committed to creating the best customer experience possible. One of the first ways we can demonstrate our commitment to this goal is to quickly and efficiently handle your recent request. While we received and reviewed your e-mail, we are having difficulty understanding your request.” [italics mine]

Well, that’s okay. This was almost certainly from a front-line support person. Being me (a dirty job, but someone has to do it) I took this as a chance to educate someone. So I helpfully wrote back:

“IP (Internet Protocol) is the fundamental communications protocol of the Internet, which specifies encapsulation and addressing of all data packets. The current version IP is IPv4, which is currently running out of address space. The ‘next generation’ version of IP is IPv6.

“I am a network architect who is involved in IPv6 activities worldwide, and am therefore very interested in having my website accessible via IPv6 in the interests of setting the right examples.

“Part of this, also, is registering my website name in DNS (Domain Name Service) with both an IPv4 address (an A record) and an IPv6 address (an AAAA record).”

I went on to say that if they passed my original request about IPv6 accessibility to anyone a little further up in tech support, they would know what I was talking about.

Here’s what I got back:

“With regard to your concern, please be informed that our current Hosting Package is optimized for the current version however for the new IPv6 it may or may not work. Thus, there is currently no guarantees that the Hosting Package will be accessible via IPv6. [italics mine]

“We hope this information has been helpful. However, if you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Service Department.”

Now I was a little irate. I wrote back stating that their servers are either IPv6 accessible or they are not; saying it may or may not work made no sense, and asked for a response from someone in their engineering staff that understands what I’m asking for.

I never received a reply, which I guess is an answer of sorts.

Like I said, that was last year. Before starting this article, I thought I’d give them another try. So again I sent a message to Network Solutions tech support, asking pretty much the same thing I asked the first time: Can they make my website IPv6 accessible?

The reply this time was different:

“We currently support IPv6. To specify your IPv6 name server address (IPv6 glue record), e-mail us the domain name, the host name of the name server(s), and their IPv6 address(es) to…”

In one aspect this is encouraging, but the part about specifying a name server address was mystifying. Network Solutions takes care of their own DNS for IPv4, and it is a really bad idea to put your IPv6 AAAA record on a different server that your IPv4 A record. Does this reply mean that their name servers are not dual stacked? Does it mean the IPv6-capable web servers are on a different network?

I asked these questions (and several others) in reply, and never received a response. Which seems, coupled with the previous non-response, to be a standard procedure there when they don’t have an answer.

So, I’m planning to move my website to an IPv6-capable provider, and I’ll update you occasionally on my experiences. But here’s the object lesson so far:

If you are a service provider or content provider, you should insure that your support personnel understand IPv6 and can speak clearly to your customers about it. Even if you don’t yet support it. Showing befuddlement about a basic networking concept can scare away your customers, more and more of whom are going to be asking you about IPv6 in the next couple of years.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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