IPv6 Initiative Catapults UAlberta Into the Future

Travel to the doors of the Internet and you might find a sign hanging there: “Maximum Capacity, 4.3 billion IP addresses.” Scribbled just beneath that: “Full.” It’s not a new sign — the Internet effectively ran out of space about a year ago. But under the IPv6 deployment initiative, the University of Alberta is planning ahead and making room for future growth.

The IPv6 deployment initiative began in April 2016 under the direction of Raymond Richmond, Core Network Team Lead. For the past year, Richmond and his crew have been drawing the blueprints and laying the groundwork to roll out Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which will replace Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), the underlying infrastructure that powers the Internet.

“The importance of deploying IPv6 now is to get it out there before we must, so we can give people a chance to get accustomed to it before the timing is critical,” Richmond explains. “Moving to IPv6 provides the University of Alberta with a sustainable foundation and prevents a problem that users might see in the future.”  

To that end, Richmond and his team have been hard at work refreshing hardware, setting refresh schedules and implementing changes from a data architecture point of view. Six weeks ago, they hit a major milestone: the University of Alberta’s entire wireless system now has IPv6 enabled. This is a huge accomplishment as, with more than 5,000 access points and 40,000 concurrent users, the University of Alberta operates one of the largest wireless networks in Canada.

“Without implementing IPv6, we can’t offer our users optimal service,” says Richmond. “IPv6 is not about the underlying technology. It’s about all the services and the people that it touches on afterward.”

With IPv6 deployed, the University of Alberta can share more resources, attract more graduate students and become more visible, particularly in Asian and European countries where IPv6 is the already heavily used standard.

Although IST’s IPv6 initiative has only been in operation for a year, the University has been preparing for it for over a decade. When the Internet launched in 1983 under IPv4, it had enough room for 4.3 billion IP addresses. Most of these were assigned within North America, so only now are we facing what countries in Europe and Asia have already gone through: the Internet is full. The advent of smartphones, laptops and cloud computing has eaten up the last IPv4 addresses available, and anyone operating under IPv4 must make do with what they have.

Thankfully, the University of Alberta is ahead of the game. IPv6 is already lined up with a staggering 340 undecillion IP addresses — that’s a 340 followed by 36 zeroes, or enough to give an IP address to every atom on Earth.

“The sooner we deploy IPv6, the better chance we have for everyone to be comfortable with it, to gain some expertise and to share that expertise with our user community,” Richmond states. “IPv6 doesn’t directly deliver value today. But it’s preparing a foundation for value in the future.”

Posted by Sheena Moore