Martin Levy’s hippocampus dumping zone

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Fear and Loathing on the road to IPv6 – A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Internet’s Core Protocol

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This is a story of a savvy network engineer and Bobby (my marketing coworker) on a journey toward a network conference in a city surrounded by desert. On the way they encounter dumb providers and vendors that act like they’re ill informed or even stoned. At one point they even trash a data center and many racks of servers! Finally, the story provides some insights into what the Internet was meant to be and what the future holds in an IPv6 world.

(I’m kidding about the datacenter part – no network equipment was ever harmed in this story).

Chapter 1. Speeding towards the desert; not a Cadillac in sight

It’s 9:30am and Bobby and I are speeding towards a shiny bright city in the middle of the desert (well, virtually anyway). The vehicle of choice? A custom pink MacBook Pro (highly customized and extremely overclocked – this thing’s got speed!). The road, or our case the myriad of random searches through phenomenally large online content, was speeding by with just a little less ferociousness today than it did yesterday. Its not as fresh a feeling as it is could have been. I knew Bobby was oblivious to it; maybe because he doesn’t have that keen sixth-sense I possess when surfing the Internet.

You see, today is a new day on the Internet. It’s one day after the official notice was posted by IANA that no more IPv4 addresses were available for the Internet’s regional registries – the guardians of the numbers that are at the heart of the Internet. Exhaustion had happened and there was a special event to mark this.

It wasn’t a big event. It had a following by the local technology-illuminati and a handful-or-so of local press. It didn’t bring out a hoard of news trucks. No one from CNN, Bloomberg or the BBC was ever dispatched. This wasn’t an event a nightly news anchor even knew about. The event, or what symbolically happened yesterday, is not about the place or about the people attending. Yesterday’s massive event happened everywhere on the globe, including on the couch where I lazed with my custom pink MacBook propped on my knees. It was exactly 24 hours later. The facts were very clear to me.

It was today and I was sitting here noticing the diminished ferocity of the Internet. It could only be explained by one nagging thought (you know, that sixth-sense) that maybe something out there on the global Internet suddenly fell off the edge of a cliff. Sure it was a virtual cliff; but the cliff’s presence was being felt. Something had fallen and there’s nothing I, or anyone else could do to save us all from it. We had run out of IPv4 addresses. Gone. Finished. Done. Exhausted.

Chapter 2. Years and years of planning for one day in early February 2011

I thought I was one of the safe kids; one of the cool, hip and potentially tech-savvy kids. I thought I’d be safe on this day. I’d always prided myself by keeping up on technology, always playing with the new stuff, I’d hung out with other, mainly cooler, kids. I’d waxed poetically late into the night about being ready for this day. Was it all talk?

Chapter 3. A long time ago, in many electronics shops far far away.

I can’t remember when, but what seemed ages ago now, Bobby and I had attended a conference and heard a talk about the demise of IPv4 space. Being interested in the subject, I had researched the topic and planned accordingly. I read up about IPv6. I talked with others about IPv6. I had even found an IPv6 sticker and put it on my laptop. When I wanted some new features for my personal blog, I moved the blog to a new hosting company, one with an IPv6 Ready logo plastered prominently on their signup page. I knew the pink MacBook and even my aging other Windows laptop were IPv6 enabled. I had successfully ignored all those silly blog posting and tweets saying turn off IPv6 and whatever ailed your machine will be fixed. Ha! They were wrong and those that followed that advice would ultimately pay a price. In the house where I was lazing on the couch, I had updated my wireless router a few times. I ultimately tossed it away and ended up buying a shiny-new 4G-enabled hotspot, one with even more features than I would ever use. I didn’t care; I had 4G and it had IPv6!

I was ready.

Chapter 4. Safety in numbers; but how many numbers?

But was I safe? A nagging feeling kept me asking: how could I be safe? Was Bobby safe? Could anyone categorically say they were safe? IPv6 was needed in order to be safe. This was like the ending to the first Alien movie where you knew there was going to be a sequel – you just knew! The sequel to yesterday’s event was going to be a lot different. The monster in this real-world movie was a lack of numbers.

This is what I knew. I knew that I was safe from a world where IPv4 addresses would start to become a scarce commodity. I was sure I had done all the IPv6 preparation needed. I primed myself well before even the most pessimistic timetable had predicted. I was ready years before yesterday.

What I’d forgot was that it’s not just a one-man job to be ready for an IPv6 world.

I needed everyone else to kick-in and do his or her part. I was careful at picking suppliers that understood IPv6, so that meant my suppliers had done their part. In fact many players around the globe had done their part; all that was missing was one small link in the chain. Somewhere out there, vital to my life on the Internet, was someone that didn’t realize IPv6 was fundamentally important. They were still living in the IPv4 world. They didn’t have a plan. They were causing me some pretty nasty nightmares.

Chapter 5. What’s the number, Kenneth?

It was 10:00am. It was officially 24 hours into the new world. There’s been some mention in the press; but no-one’s going to ever bring this story back to life again. Yesterday was a seminal event, one that could never be repeated again. Sure there’s going to be times and places within a few months where geographies or entities will run out of IPv4 space; but no-one’s going notice. No one’s going to sing about this. Yesterday was the best shot anyone had to make this front-page news.

Bobby’s still oblivious to what just happened. I know that Bobby’s in the majority. I’m very much aware that I live in the minority.

The numbers are truly staggering. Billions of people are connected to the global Internet. Billons still want to connect and they should be allowed to. Every day, more and more companies are dependent on the existence of a working Internet to continue earning money. Without the Internet, some modern companies would have never existed, let along be worth hundred of millions of dollar or even the billion dollars they are worth. Heck, one of those companies is worth over 200 billion dollars. Staggering.

The secret is that numbers excite me. I found that out when I was a teenager at high school. I started to find out about numbers, to experiment with numbers and I soon realized big numbers were always more fun than small ones. (That can be true for nearly everything). For example, find somewhere away from the city lights and hang out late at night with your friends. Just look up at the night sky and try to convince them to count all the stars they can see. They can’t, there’s way-to-many to count. Now, pretend you own the Hubble telescope and could look at the whole universe; even then there would be four quadrillion IPv6 addresses for each and every star in the observable universe. IPv6’s addressing numbers are huge, really huge.

We would never run out of IPv6 space; we geeks all knew that. The trouble was that Bobby didn’t care for numbers like I did.

The one thing that Bobby did know is what a marketplace is worth. Bobby can ignore all the gobble-de-gook that I go on-and-on about. It just goes in one ear and out the other. The 32 or 128 bit choices, the 4.3 billion number, the 340 followed by more zero’s than anyone can imagine. No, it’s uninteresting to Bobby. What Bobby cares about is one and only one thing. Does the Internet work? “Well does it?” is the usual response from Bobby to whatever I’m saying.

After yesterday, I have to say “not so much today.” Somewhere out there IPv4 networks existed and no one running them was realizing they needed their own IPv6 plan.

Chapter 6. IPv6? Yeah, we got that!

As the day progressed, I start to recover from the mid-morning pout. I’d sunk pretty low and that’s not my style. I was going to have to deal with the new world. Yesterday’s event was thrust on me and I knew it was really a call to action vs. capitulation and defeat. The light at the end of the tunnel was very visible to me. I knew that I had my part to do in telling the world to IPv6 enable their networks. Even while lazing on the couch, I would still be able to impress upon a few people that today (and not tomorrow) was the day to enable IPv6 on their network.

One person at a time was a good motto; just one person at a time. It was to time to dust off the keys; wipe away the coffee stains from the trackpad and go to work. Work that would have to compensate for the slightly less ferocious Internet we had after yesterday. Time to enable each and every connection out there to help me get the IPv6 message out to the world. Each and every friend needs to help. Each and every colleague needs to help. Each and every friend of a friend needs to help.

IPv4 was yesterday’s news. Today is the day after yesterday, where IPv6 matters to each and every user of the global Internet.

The End.

… to be continued? Or will it? It’s up to you.


Written by Martin J. Levy

February 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Posted in telecom

One Response

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  1. […] Martin Levy, Director IPv6 Strategy at Hurricane Electric, one of those thought leaders who has been driving Internet at the operational level for a really, really long time sums it up succinctly, IPv4 was yesterday’s news. Today is the day after yesterday, where IPv6 matters to each and every user of the global Internet. (Martin’s Blog) […]

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