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NTT America's IPv6 migration: How it didn't create routing hell

The reckoning day for IPv4 address exhaustion and IPv6 migration is nearing: IPv4 numbers will run out in about 480 days, according to John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), who addressed operators at a recent conference.

While other telecom operators drum up creative workarounds to avoid IPv6 migration, wholesale backbone provider NTT America blazed ahead by retooling its global IP network seven years ago to fully support the 128-bit hexadecimal addressing specification. NTT America's CTO Doug Junkins recently sat down with SearchTelecom.com at Future-Net 2010 in Boston to talk about why and how the operator completed an early IPv6 migration without stepping into a routing apocalypse.

Junkins
Doug Junkins
 CTO, NTT America

Why did NTT America choose to complete its IPv6 migration nearly nine years before IPv4 addresses would run out?
We wanted to make sure we were ready in the core of our network to support IPv6 when people started making the migration. We also believe strongly that the solution of using IPv6 to handle the scaling issues of the Internet is the proper solution for the future, so we wanted to show that it can be done. Our network has been running IPv6 natively since 2003. We had some tunneled IPv6 services long before that, and we wanted to show that it was possible to run IPv6 in a large-scale global network -- that it would work properly and have that ability for our customers to make that migration. Let's hear all your IPv6 migration secrets. How did you make the transition smoothly?

The benefit of being able to show that IPv6 is a usable technology and the technology for the future was worth the small amount of risk that we couldn't avoid.
Doug Junkins
CTONTT America

A lot of testing [laughs]. What we did was we first identified the equipment we had in our network at that time and started making a long-term goal that everything would be capable of running IPv6 by a certain timeline. We started working with our equipment manufacturers to find out what equipment we had that would be capable and what equipment we would need to replace. Luckily, very little of it had to be replaced outside of what our normal replacement schedule was. Most of it was just making sure that we had the right software from the equipment vendor and [that we] had done all of the testing in our labs to make sure all of the IPv6 software worked reliably and securely, just as we would by IPv4.

What we've done is we've taken all of the normal qualification tests that we do for IPv4 and have extended them to do the same set of functions in IPv6. Now, for every piece of equipment we buy and every piece of software we install on our network, we go through this test suite to make sure that it's completely IPv4 and IPv6 capable. Did NTT America have any reservations about completing its IPv6 migration early?
Obviously, we approached it very, very cautiously. We do run a global network that many of our customers rely on every day for running their businesses, and if our network goes down, those customers are losing money.

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Obviously, we have to be very careful in that regard. But with the [equipment] testing we were able to do to match all of the IPv4 testing, we were very confident that we were not going to run into any major issue by enabling IPv6 on our network.

The benefit of being able to show that IPv6 is a usable technology and the technology for the future was worth the small amount of risk that we couldn't avoid. In hindsight, we have not had any major router issues that we can trace to the fact that we have enabled IPv6. What kind of applications has the IPv6 migration enabled that weren't possible with IPv4?
In Japan, one of the applications that NTT developed that uses IPv6 pretty much relies on it. It requires the unique end identifiers that IPv6 allows. They have an earthquake detection system that can detect the early waves of an earthquake and actually broadcast that to a set of IPv6-enabled receivers in people's homes. It will give them at least a few seconds to minutes warning before an earthquake, so they have some time to take shelter or take whatever measures they can in the limited time they have.

By using IPv6, we've been able to make sure all of those broadcasts and devices have a unique end identifier -- that they can send information back if necessary and things like that -- rather than being behind a firewall or behind a network address translation device in the home or in the home gateway. How much management and maintenance have you needed to do since completing the IPv6 migration?
It takes a little bit of care and maintenance just to make sure your network is being used as efficiently as possible and performance that you're providing . But by enabling IPv6 and IPv4 at the same time, we can do a lot of that tuning for both of them together, rather than having to tune IPv4 and IPv6 separately.

We've done a lot of work with the tools that we use to manage our network to be able to tune IPv4 and IPv6 concurrently and offer the best performance possible for our customers. [We use] some homegrown router configuration tools that … manage all of the configurations on our equipment and some off-the-shelf software that helps us engineer the traffic patterns on our network. What have been the biggest benefits of completing your IPv6 migration ahead of the pack?
I think the biggest benefit we had was being able to demonstrate that IPv6 was a viable technology to use. Also, by deploying it very early, we've built relationships with the right people within the vendor community -- within the Cisco [Systems] organization, the Juniper [Networks] organization -- to have a little closer interaction with the engineers there who are doing their IPv6 work and [to work] directly with them to make sure the features that we need in IPv6 are being implemented.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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