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Preparing for World IPv6 Launch

World IPv6 Launch is just around the corner. By June 6, 2012, web companies, major ISPs, and home networking equipment manufacturers are coming together to permanently enable IPv6 for their products and services. Cisco is among them, participating in this global IPv6 launch both as a website operator and leading network solutions provider. As a web company, we’ll be making www.cisco.com permanently IPv6 accessible starting on June 6. Here’s a view into how Cisco IT has been preparing our IPv6 web presence.

The enterprise journey toward IPv6 started almost a decade ago, and the focus on our web presence started a couple of years ago when the Cisco IT team built a small-scale, parallel IPv6 environment in a sandbox network that was used to host static content. We used the domain name www.ipv6.cisco.com, knowing that few people would visit the site. It gave us a chance to get our feet wet with IPv6 while minimizing the risk should something go wrong.

Fast forward to June 8, 2011 and World IPv6 Day when many website operators globally enabled IPv6 access to their production sites and services as part of a 24-hour “test run.” Cisco made www.cisco.com IPv6 accessible on that day. The outcome was a success, and gave all the participants confidence that IPv6 was truly production ready. World IPv6 Day was also a valuable learning opportunity for Cisco IT to better understand what it would take to permanently IPv6-enable our website.

In the year since that test run, our focus has been on preparing for the World IPv6 Launch. The big difference in planning for this launch stems from “the turn it on and leave it on” objective. To leave IPv6 on permanently demands production quality, and production quality demands readiness. Readiness started for us several months ago when we first sought support for World IPv6 Launch from IT and business leaders. Based on our experiences with World IPv6 Day, we knew that planning and delivery would require collaboration across most of the IT organization. So the first step was buy-in at the CIO level to help ensure that all needed teams were at the table.

Next, we turned our attention toward architecture and design. Our primary goals were to:

  1. Leverage the existing production network infrastructure investment and avoid costs of parallel networks.
  2. Ensure production quality and the ability to maintain service levels for www.cisco.com.

The design we chose centers on a reverse proxy model using the Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE). Incoming IPv6 sessions are proxied by the ACE to the existing web tier using IPv4. The network upstream of the ACE is dual stacked, including existing ISP connections.

With the design in place, our attention shifted to network hardware, software, service provider, and application readiness. We performed an assessment using the IPv6 Device Readiness Assessment service to determine whether existing devices in our DMZ and data center networks were capable of supporting IPv6. The assessment showed that existing hardware was capable of supporting IPv6, but software upgrades were required on some platforms. In parallel, we assessed our ISP partners and their ability to dual stack existing connections, as well as our content delivery network provider’s ability to accelerate content delivery for www.cisco.com over IPv6. Based on our experience with World IPv6 Day, we felt comfortable that existing applications and services residing behind the www.cisco.com domain name were compatible with IPv6. The only application that required slight modification was our web analytics system that tracks site usage for www.cisco.com and uses source IP address as a data point. We found that the system vendor supported IPv6 in the product, and we made minor configuration changes to accommodate IPv6 source addresses.

Operational readiness followed, which is a critical stage given the need to maintain production levels of service. With service assurance being top of mind, we enhanced our network management systems to support network, device, and application monitoring over IPv6. We also put together a training program to ensure that everyone, from the front line help desk to network engineers, had the IPv6 knowledge and skills appropriate for their role.

And finally we reached system-level testing, which is where we’re at today. End-to-end testing is under way with QA engineers performing functional and performance checks. Our last test will be a “final practice run” when we temporarily advertise an AAAA DNS record for a couple of hours and validate that everything works end to end in our production environment, including our content delivery network and ISP services.

Next stop? June 6, 2012 00:00 UTC.

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