Anthony Christie, Global Crossing, on IPv6 preparedness

Anthony Christie, Global Crossing

Anthony Christie, CTO & CIO, Global Crossing

A 20-plus year veteran of the telecom industry, Anthony Christie, CTO and CIO of Global Crossing, views this week's IPv6 day much like the Y2K transition that took place a decade ago in the IT industry. While it's not exactly the same event, Christie, who back then was leading a major outsourcing deal for AT&T Solutions, said what made that deal go relatively flawlessly was the amount of preparation and planning they did.

He believes that while IPv6 day is not exactly the same thing, it's very similar in that it could impact how businesses and consumers access and manage their content. Sean Buckley, Senior Editor of FierceTelecom, caught up with Christie recently to talk about Global Crossing's role in participating in this week's World IPv6 Day and what they did to prepare for it.

FT: Global Crossing will participate in World IPv6 day tomorrow. Although Global Crossing has been offering IPv6 services for over a decade, how do you think it will go?

AC: The Internet is this big enormous endless ecosystem that, in many respects, we know what's there and in many respects we don't know what's there. ...The whole reason the day exists is kind of cool when you stop to think about it. It is representative of what the Internet is, which is this loosely coupled and highly cohesive group of rules that are very specific and some are quite frankly more understood than they are written down anywhere. Things like how peers should behave are typically never an issue and you don't hear about them until somebody misbehaves. For each one that you hear like that, there's thousands of others that work.

"I don't believe that there's any expectation there will be new functionality... but with IPv6 it does exist. This is going to be 'hey, is this going to be the same way when we cut as before?'"

If you take the nature of the Internet with what people have come to expect with quality of experience and accessibility of content globally whenever and wherever, and you add a different address scheme to it that has an impact on all of the upstream plumbing, and you have a pretty big day for the industry. The industry across the board is testing the accessibility to today be what's commonplace. I don't believe that there's any expectation there will be new functionality... but with IPv6 it does exist. This is going to be 'hey, is this going to be the same way when we cut as before?'

One of the analogies I was using with someone recently was when we did the year 2000 upgrade. All of the work that went into the preparation throughout the enterprise--your LAN, your WAN, your IT infrastructure and the companies that sprung up around to support that. It was largely a non-event. You could ask, was it a non-event because there were no issues, or was it a non-event because people stood up and planned accordingly? I was part of that by working a large outsourcing deal for AT&T at the time, and I can tell you it went as smooth as silk with the exception of two locations. It was because of the level of planning. I wouldn't say Y2K is not exactly like IPv6 Day, but I would not put it too far away in terms of what the intent is meant to be in terms of what people are used to in accessing and managing their content.

FT: What did Global Crossing have to do to prepare for this event?

AC: It starts with your organization and your people need to be well versed in this. This is a newer technology. We needed to do a number of things in our own infrastructure to ensure that our Global site and the infrastructure that supports it and the routers that support that can all pass v6 traffic freely. We had to do that and went a step further. Because we're a high touch customer experience organization, we set up a number of ways for customers to reach out to out in the event they had a challenge. We have a good old fashioned help desk, instructions on our Facebook page, Twitter; you can contact our webmaster directly and the director of product management on his blog. Every available media will have support.

FT: What are the biggest challenges and concerns believe business and consumers will have in the IPv6 migration?

AC:  You did not get a lot of people to think about this unless there was a trigger event. For example, if you weren't about to update your infrastructure unless you read the first block of v4 addresses were exhausted at the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) level. That triggered a number of questions for customers. Let's face it, we won't run out of IPv4 addresses anytime soon. I have not experienced panic from anyone. The response has covered the gamut from: what do I need to prepare; what questions do I need to ask my network service provider, my equipment provider, my IT providers; and what do I need to do internally?

Then there's the other side where customers are saying there are still addresses out there and it's going to be 18-24 months before these addresses are going to be exhausted. We would offer that 18-24 months sounds like a long time, but it's not. There's a lot of inventory assessment and understanding what you have in place today.

"Is there a black or green market? It's a possibility, and it's been circumvented because of a number of substitute technologies like NAT and address proxies."

Chances are, if you're on the latest version of Windows and you did a PC refresh, you're fine. It will pass v6 traffic. If you take that brand new Dell computer and you're using it on your wireless hub that's been in your house, that hub might not be v6 compatible. That might be a problem if you work from home. It's literally every spoke in the wheel that will need to be looked at one point or another and that's what IPv6 Day is all about.

FT: There's a lot of talk lately about this idea of the IPv4 black market. Do you believe we'll see that emerge during the ongoing transition phase?

AC: If it happens, it will happen in Asia first and then in North America and Europe after that in 2012. I guess the way to answer that is twofold. First, what is out there today? It isn't just one big pool of addresses people go to. There's IANA, which has the pool and allocation methods. If the ISPs prove go to them and prove they need new addresses they'll get them. It's a hierarchy inside of that. It's like the supply chain. Things might get shut off on one end, but it's going to take a trickledown effect until a user sees any issues. That's why we're saying there's enough addresses in the system for 18-24 months.

Is there a black or green market? It's a possibility, and it's been circumvented because of a number of substitute technologies like NAT and address proxies. You know what I think, there's going to be more of those, but I don't think there's going to be this big splash. In Asia it might be different story. Wherever there's a demand in IT there will be other technologies that will be able to support that shortage up until the bitter end. At some point regardless of how many green markets or black markets there are or substitute technologies, we have to move on. There's no more leaded gasoline.  

FT: Do specific vertical segments have specific requirements like, say, the government?

AC: There are vertical requirements, and the vertical requirements are largely driven by things like security and storage and transparency that might be required for that particular vertical. In many respects, those elements can be managed a software level and not at a switching, level 3 level.

"There's really not a payback in moving to v6 just for the sake of moving to v6."

Our government made a big splash around 2008 that everything had to be migrated to v6. The thinking was for the mobile war fighter and all of his or her equipment we need to be there. The thing we're testing we have to be there. Well, it's one thing to be there and it's another to move an entire supply chain in an industry. Often, the industry will get you there.

There's really not a payback in moving to v6 just for the sake of moving to v6. Like I said before, you'll typically do it when there's a trigger in another part of your business: We're upgrading our infrastructure and I want to make sure my equipment is ready; we're looking at a new service provider and as I do this I want to know they can serve in a dual stack environment. When you do that, it's more of a modernization question versus an ROI question.

Also, the government is focused on the monitoring and management of devices. They have an additional level of complexity because they not only had to upgrade their existing security systems, which tend to be very expensive and custom, but also the security capability to monitor that infrastructure. That's what slowed that down. To answer your question in a short after a long answer, yes, there are specific needs amongst various verticals and the government is a good example.

Anthony Christie, Global Crossing, on IPv6 preparedness