Making the switch to IPv6

By Luke Tymowski, Systems Administrator, Calgary

The last two months have been a very busy time for the Cybera operations team. The IPv6 transition schedule was aggressive; three months to master IPv6, and update our server infrastructure and our desktops to support both IPv4 and IPv6, even though our network has been running IPv6 since 2005.

Why the big, intense push to support IPv6? That was CANARIE's idea. And a good one. If they hadn't pushed everyone to support IPv6, most of us would probably have kept putting it off. But with a March 31 deadline in place, and weekly courses sponsored by CANARIE and taught by Marc Blanchet, who has probably forgotten more about IPv6 than most of us will ever know, we had an excellent opportunity to learn and implement IPv6.

IPv6 is important to the internet, because the pool of available IPv4 addresses (ex: 8.8.8.8) have almost run dry. Fortunately, obtaining a huge block of IPv6 addresses is very easy. Cybera's allocation of IPv6 addresses from CANARIE gives us more IP addresses than the entire IPv4 address space, an almost unlimited pool. Thirty years ago, four billion IP addresses seemed like plenty. Today it's not sufficient for a planet full of servers, desktops, smartphones and 21st century fridges.

Even though obtaining an IPv6 address is easy, there's a lot of work to ensure all our network equipment, servers and desktops are able to run both Internet Protocols. We need to run both, because very little of what is available on the IPv4-based internet is available also available on the IPv6-based internet. Currently, if you only have an IPv6 address, the internet is a very lonely place.

The first step to the transition was verifying all our network equipment and servers would support IPv6. That proved to be the easy part. The problems came largely with the software we use to manage and publish websites. We have servers that use Apache 1.3., but Apache only added IPv6 support to Apache 2.x version. Also, the version of Drupal we use doesn't support IPv6, and upgrading Drupal isn't just a matter of upgrading Drupal itself; there are plug-ins and third-party libraries that need to be verified and upgraded as well.

Cybera staff primarily use Mac computers, and while OS X supports IPv6, it doesn't support DHCP6, which is a way of providing computers with IP addresses without entering them manually. This left us to solve the problem of configuring our Macs to "talk" to DNS servers, without manually updating each computer.

Now, in our Calgary office, all our desktop users are able to browse the IPv6-based web, whether they use Macs, Windows or Linux, as are our iPhone and iPad users. Even our Network Analyst, Alvaro Pereira's, Android-based Nexus One phone is using the new protocol! Some of us took what we learned at work and transitioned our home Internet connections over to IPv6. Sadly, Canadian ISPs are mostly silent on the issue of IPv6, so enabling your home with IPv6 takes more effort than it should.

The transition to IPv6 has been a great learning experience. Tasks we thought would involve a lot of work turned out to be easy. Things we assumed would just work turned out to be more complicated than we expected. But we've solved each issue we've encountered.

As we head into the final stretch, we've met, or will very soon have met, the original goals set by CANARIE. The operations team had never been busier, but we accomplished a lot and learned valuable, new skills.

Have you made the switch for your own website?