(Please see the previous post for part 1 of this 2-parter.)
A view from the front lines
Richard Hyatt is CTO and co-founder of BlueCat Networks, the kind of industry expert who could be described as an international thought leader on IPv6. BlueCat has built a tremendously successful business focussed on IP, DNS and DHCP management for global clients like Sony, l’Oréal and UPS. The company is now, unsurprisingly, at the forefront of the IPv6 transition.
I caught up with Hyatt on the eve of his departure for Switzerland to talk to a group of CIOs about v6. In an email exchange, Hyatt shared some of his current thinking about v4 exhaustion and the prospects for the transition.
Hyatt argues that the transition is in worse shape than the public dialog indicates. Despite wishful thinking to the contrary, “the final IANA assignments went out the other day, leaving the IPv4 well dry.” Even the spinning exhaustion counter on this page paints a picture too rosy:
“The counter from Hurricane Electric on your site might not be correct since the [IPv4] delegations have all been spoken for (I confirmed this with several well connected sources) – IANA has yet to update the text file on their site.”
[I see the IANA IPv4 Address Space Registry was last updated on Jan 4 – D.E.] This state of affairs might be less worrisome if we were seeing some initiative from political and business leaders. But Hyatt sees a deep reluctance to take action: “The more you talk to organizations, be it government or [commercial] entities, you realize that most don’t have a plan or don’t think it’s an issue.” To be fair, Hyatt is in business to move as many clients as possible to newer and better technologies. Yet his pessimism about IPv6 deployment is confirmed by the numbers I’ve seen from other sources. For example, Craig Labovitz of Arbor Networks wrote the following assessment last October:
“While v6 traffic has climbed dramatically in the last three years (more than a hundredfold), v6 remains less than one twentieth of one percent all Internet traffic as of October 2010. At this rate, we have years to go before even modest levels of v6 adoption.”
My original question for Hyatt arose from the claim that Canada is falling behind in IPv6 adoption. In his recent BGPmon post on Canada, Andree Toonk calculates that “Canada has an IPv6 deployment rate of 8%, which is the same as the global average. It is, however, significantly lower than for example New Zealand, Japan and many European countries.”
Hyatt sees the problem a little differently. Canada is part of ARIN, along with our neighbor the United States. Because we share the same RIR space, Hyatt believes we’re in the same boat when it comes to the v4-v6 transition. In other words, the barriers to progress aren’t strictly on the demand side; supply is also problematic. “Getting ip6 delegation is difficult” for just about everyone nowadays – even BlueCat.
Does Canada have a plan?
When I originally wrote this section, I was waiting to hear back from the Treasury Board Secretariat in Ottawa. I had asked whether or not they have a public-facing policy (or any policy) on the deployment of IPv6 across the networks and websites operated by the federal government. Treasury Board sets the rules for many government operations, including the extensive Common Look and Feel Standards for federal websites. I was told my inquiry to the CIO’s office would have to go through “channels” – i.e. the media relations folks. They got back when promised, two full working days later. The following text (in blue) is the verbatim response:
Here is Treasury Board Secretariat’s response to your question on IPv6:
Question: What is the Government of Canada’s strategy for upgrading to Internet Protocol Version 6?
– The Government of Canada is aware of the technical requirements and the service improvements IPv6 will provide, and will be following a similar direction as other countries for its migration.
– The Treasury Board Secretariat is working with departments to define a path and timelines for migrating to IPv6.
My inquiry arose because I was unable to find any trace of information about IPv6 on either the Treasury Board or Industry Canada websites. I’ve long had issues with the unwillingness or inability of Industry Canada staff to provide even a bare minimum of information online about critical technologies like broadband, whether program-related or of an educational kind. The IC website, like the CRTC’s, is a disaster.
This approach to sharing information with the public is reflected in the Treasury Board response, which is exactly 48 words long. Either this is the extent of their efforts to date, or alternatively there’s lots more going on, but we’re not allowed to know. The notion that Canada is going to follow “a similar direction as other countries” suggests it’s the former. (For the sake of clarity, I note that no particular countries were specified in the email.)
As has often been the case since Obama became president, the efforts made in Washington to help American citizens understand new technologies make us pale in comparison. This is particularly true of broadband and now similarly invidious comparisons may apply to IPv6.
Last September, Vivek Kundra, the White House Chief Information Officer, issued a memo (pdf) to the CIOs of all executive departments and agencies concerning IPv6. Though barely more than a page long, the memo sets out in convincing detail the steps to be taken to achieve, among other things, full deployment of native IPv6 on public-facing federal services by the end of 2012.
The memo begins by stating that the Federal government must transition to IPv6 in order to: “Enable the successful deployment and expansion of key Federal information technology (IT) modernization initiatives, such as Cloud Computing, Broadband, and SmartGrid, which rely on robust, scalable Internet networks…”
The current government in Ottawa has made quite a fuss over the last year about why Canada needs to be innovative and competitive in the digital era. This sentiment was spelled out in the digital economy initiative launched last spring. At its core is the perceived need for widespread adoption of ICTs by Canadian businesses, particularly of the small and medium variety. A good argument can be made that IPv6 is the platform upon which most emerging ICTs will operate over the next decade. If we’re to take Minister Clement and his colleagues at face value, why does the Harper government have a mere 48 words to say about the urgent need to deploy v6?
“Not migrating to IPv6 is not an option”
If it turns out that Ottawa doesn’t a plan for IPv6 (maybe it does), it’s not for lack of advice. Less than a year ago, a detailed set of recommendations was drawn up by the ICT Standards Advisory Council of Canada (ISACC) in a 66-page report (pdf). A tone of impatience and frustration runs through much of this document. In some ways the assessment of this key advisory group is reminiscent of Canada’s fall from grace in the broadband sector:
“In recent years, many of Canada’s largest trading partners including the United States, the European Union, China, Japan, Korea and others have mandated the deployment of IPv6-capable devices for their networks. Additionally, some governments subsidized domestic research and/or procurement of IPv6 products. Canada was an early mover on IPv6 in the early 2000’s and had several ‘firsts’, however its technology leadership has not been sustained” (p.3, my emphasis).
It’s not clear to what extent the federal government has heeded the warnings contained in this report. But beyond the technical and practical details, the authors speak plainly about where they stand on the issues dear to Tony Clement:
“This report is a call to action. Canada needs to embrace IPv6 or risk becoming non-competitive in international trading markets and in the networking technology that is vital to all segments of our digital economy” (p.4, my emphasis).
I noted earlier that the IPv6 crisis in Canada extends to the IPv6 transit market. Andree Toonk says that not a single Canadian telco or cableco currently offers IPv6 transit. The only Canadian exceptions are Peer1 and CANARIE (the latter being a research network that isn’t part of the commercial market).
North America’s incumbent carriers are fond of imagining that they bring innovation to the marketplace; they’re equally fond of warning that any attempt to regulate their activities will kill innovation (along with investment and jobs). It appears, however, that Canada’s major carriers have already missed the IPv6 boat. As Toonk says, our few IPv6-ready networks are now obliged to buy transit from the major global carriers. A continued failure to invest in and commit to IPv6 could have a domino effect and result in a loss of Canadian IPv4 transit customers as well. So much for telco innovation.
Whatever’s going on behind closed doors in Ottawa, you can be sure the v4-v6 crisis is going to get worse before it gets better.