IPv6: What’s in it for Google?
by April 7, 2009

Filed under: Industry Insights

If the arrival of IPv6 can be likened to “climate change for networks”, then Google has become the corporate incarnation of “Al Gore for the Internet”.  Not only does the search engine giant have an apparent interest in furthering the adoption of IPv6, but it has taken steps to make sure everyone else does too.

Last week, Google held its IPv6 Implementers conference in San Jose.  It had a limited attendance, was paid for by Google, and was aimed at technical folks who had specific interest in how, less if or when, to implement IPv6.  Speakers offered views from companies such as Google, Hurricane Electric, BechTel, Comcast, Cisco, Microsoft, Beijing Internet Institute, and NTT America.  Our own IPv6 researcher Dr. Vilcu attended and was impressed by everything – from the people, to the content, to Google’s cafeteria food.

While the some of the usual “terrifying” stories of IPv4 depletion were being passed around (including updated predictions IANA will run out of IPv4 addresses as early as September 2010), there were more reassuring stories suggesting that the transition IPv6 is not as hard as some feared.  For example, Google’s Lorenzo Colitti described their transition as relatively care-free and low cost.

On the other hand, there were disappointingly few details provided for critical how-tos such as addressing plans and network management.  It was clear that IPv6 still has not reached the mainstream consciousness.  On a third hand, Colitti’s demonstration of IPv6 on Android hinted at Google’s interest in mobile networking, the only real contender for “killer app” for IPv6.

The following week, Colitti appeared again at the Internet Society sponsored “Seven Stages of IPv6 Denial” panel featured at the Internet Engineering Task Force conference in San Francisco.   The IETF meetings develop and advance a broad range of protocols like IPv6 – however, IPv6 has been increasingly in the spotlight 0ver the last few years.  Even the attractive conference T-shirt, bearing a faux concert tour motif,  was used to promote IPv6 over IPv4 (referred to as “sold out”).

Colitti shared the stage with well-known faces from Comcast, IETF, ARIN, and Ericsson, amongst others.  And he repeated many of the same messages – and others such as a claim that there was a business case for IPv6 however indirect the revenue might be.  The others relied on familiar themes that did not add anything new for those already in the choir.

With little or no persuasive economic impetus to transition to IPv6 (it is primarily being described as a strategic move), at least companies like Google are stepping up to give people reasons to move earlier.  Spreading the knowledge seems to be their intent with the implementer’s conference.  And by offering an IPv6-specific search portal, they have raised its visibility.   Some companies have made similar contributions to the cause – for example, Microsoft is limiting its slick new DirectAccess capability in Windows 7 to being IPv6-only (DA offers users secure intranet access with0ut using a VPN).

[Note:  On the other hand, Microsoft.com is not yet IPv6 accessible, and all indications are that home systems like XBox will not be running IPv6 any time soon.]

The general noise these days sounds like a pack of sheep milling about discussing how good the grass is over on the other side of the hill.  Even as the last of the grass is being finished off where they are, few seem inclined to  make the hike.  What is notable though is that Google clearly has some vested interest in the pack making the move sooner than later and in an orderly fashion.  It remains to be seen if it is a visionary sheep or a dapper wolf.

Or perhaps it simply wants to be there when the first early adopters arrive – as part of its goal of world domination without doing evil.

Certainly every little bit helps – but what would be really interesting is a  IPv6-only Daywhere access to Google’s indispensable search engine is briefly cut-off for IPv4 users.  Sort of a warning shot over the world’s bow…..  now that would get some attention.

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