Q&A: Matthew Finnie, Interoute

Interoute is the operator of Europe’s most advanced and densely connected voice and data network. The company connects 100 cities in 29 countries, serving a broad range of sectors including aerospace, automotive, finance, pharmaceutical and retail, government, universities and research agencies. We spoke to its CIO, Matthew Finnie, to find out how the migration to IPv6 will affect businesses.

Tell us about your role at Interoute

As CTO, I am responsible for driving Interoute’s product innovation, developing the platform that has allowed the company to launch its industry-leading VoIP, Ethernet and media products. Over the last year in particular, I’ve been very involved in the launch of Interoute’s Unified Connectivity offering, which enables businesses to buy ICT infrastructure as a service. Rather than needing to predict what they will need in three to five years time, businesses can make changes to their networking services quickly, easily and at any point.

What is the driving factor for migrating to IPv6?

Let’s start with the basics. Every computer connected to the internet has a unique Internet Protocol address (IP address). IP addresses host identification and location addresses. Like every home has its own address, every computer on the Internet has an address too. The internet currently runs on IPv4, a 32-bit based system consisting of four numbers, and allocation of address space is managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

IPv4 has been making the headlines a lot recently because the maximum number of addresses (roughly 4 billion) is set to run out this year. In fact, IANA assigned the final block of IPv4 addresses back in January this year. This is where IPv6 comes in. The successive version of IPv4, IPv6, uses a 128 bit address and offers a much larger address pool. However, it is not compatible with IPv4, which means that eventually all businesses will need to migrate to the new address version.

So the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has assigned the final IPv4 addresses. Should businesses be worried?

In my opinion, businesses actually have less to worry about when it comes to incompatibility and migration because most of their exposure to IP addresses is indirect. The real issue will be for the content providers, who will need to run both the IPv4 and IPv6 worlds simultaneously whilst the transition takes place. This said, it will put businesses in good stead if they plan early on. Many content providers are already providing IPv6 enabled services, and as IPv4 addresses become harder to come by, those who deploy earlier will be better prepared.

What about the impact that this will have on the average consumer?

It is very unlikely that the average consumer will even notice the transition to IPv6. The only scenarios where it will have an impact are with older computers that run operating systems that do not have IPv6 enabled on default, such as Windows XP. This may prevent some consumers from accessing IPv6 hosted websites, meaning they could miss out on the next generation of content. Consumers will also need support in order to reconfigure their broadband devices and this is something that ISPs and incumbents should look to address sooner rather than later.

Why are businesses hesitant to make the move to IPv6?

When it comes to investing in ICT, all businesses are wary at first. They need to know what the wider picture is so that they can weigh up the return on investment and decide when the right time is for them to invest. Moreover, migrating to IPv6 is not an easy task. It’s a complex migration that requires the right knowledge in order to navigate through the change. Without this guidance from content providers and ISPs the task of migration can seem more daunting and result in a hesitancy to commit from businesses.

Can we be sure that we won’t run out of IPv6 addresses?

The short answer to this question is ‘Yes, we can be sure’. IPv6 uses a 128 bit address and offers a vast address pool. To put it in context; the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. So, if we had been assigning IPv6 addresses at a rate of 1 billion per second since the earth was formed, by now we would have used up less than one trillionth of the address space. This website explains it well. With this in mind, I think we can be pretty confident that we won’t be running out any time soon!

Are the security fears around IPv6 migration justified?

Security around IPv6 will be a challenge, as the migration process will require organisations to run two protocols. This increases complexity, which in turn increases the security challenges that businesses face. It’s inevitable that there will be attackers that have more ‘experience’ than an organisation in the early stages of IPv6 deployment does. This will pose a security threat to companies who may find it difficult to detect previously unknown threats.

The amount of IP addresses open to spammers to send their messages around the world will also increase, and these will be much harder to blacklist. The security industry is going to have a lot on its hands to bring enterprises, content providers and ISPs up to speed with the new scope of threats and educating them on how they can mitigate the risks.

At Interoute, we have embedded security controls across our entire network and offer a host of security solutions to enterprises. We have also integrated a number of best practice standards, including SAS-70, PCI DSS, and ITIL to ensure the security and quality objectives of our customers.

What can be done to alleviate the problems associated with migration?

Although all the IPv4 addresses have been assigned, many of these remain unused. These could be re-distributed, providing businesses with a buffer, giving them more time to prepare for IPv6 before migration is necessary.

Appropriate authorities may need to take the lead in prioritising who is assigned IPv4/IPv6 addresses in order to manage industry-wide migration. In terms of who is allocated IPv6 addresses first, there may well be an argument that the need amongst content providers is greater than the access providers as they’ll be the ones most directly affected by the new address space.

What has Interoute done to ensure that it is ready for IPv6?

We’ve increased the capacity of our own network in order to support IPv6. This is all part of ensuring that the network is future-proofed, and the transition towards IPv6 is part of this.

What are the future goals of Interoute?

Interoute’s goal is to make the Cloud work for Europe. Our strategy to reach that goal is to transform Interoute’s physical network, Europe’s largest, into Europe´s largest Cloud Platform. In essence, the Continent’s leading Unified ICT service provider. We envisage a world where our Unified Computing Portfolio is dominated by Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Pay as you grow becomes the norm.

Computing, Applications and Data would be globally accessible, even if virtualised across dispersed hosting resources. And all of these services come together for the customer through the Interoute Hub, the portal that provides a window to the customer’s IT infrastructure. As a result, the Interoute network itself becomes a service.

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.