Little-known Hurricane Electric, the nation's leading provider of IPv6 services, is bracing for new and bigger competitors entering the fray.
IPv6 is the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, known as IPv4. IPv6 features vastly more address space, built-in security and enhancements for streaming media and peer-to-peer applications. All carriers and enterprises must run IPv6 when IPv4 addresses are depleted, which is expected in 2011.
In recent weeks, two of the largest U.S. carriers -- Verizon Wireless and Comcast -- have made announcements related to IPv6. Verizon Wireless said in June that devices must support IPv6 in order to operate on its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. Also in June, Comcast announced it was offering IPv6 transit services to its wholesale customers, which are primarily Web content providers such as Netflix.
Hurricane Electric already competes against such IPv6 rivals as NTT America, which has offered commercial IPv6 service in the United States since 2001, and Global Crossing, which introduced IPv6 service here in 2005.
Hurricane Electric says the latest IPv6 activity is good news for the Fremont, Calif., provider of wholesale IPv4 and IPv6 transit, collocation and Web hosting services. That's because it shows how Hurricane Electric has been out in front of the IPv6 curve.
"One fundamentally important thing to understand about our IPv6 strategy is that there's nothing special about it," says Martin Levy, Hurricane's Director of IPv6 Strategy. "Everything in our backbone is IPv4 and IPv6. There is no place anywhere inside the applications we run or inside the services we provide for our customers where we aren't IPv6 and IPv4... Every one of our customers ends up getting IPv6 and IPv4."
Hurricane Electric offers native IPv6 connectivity, IPv6-enabled Web hosting and a free tunnel broker that allows network managers to send IPv6 traffic over IPv4 pipes. The ISP also offers a free online program that allows network managers to certify their level of IPv6 knowledge. More than 4,000 people have taken the IPv6 self-certification test in the last nine months.
Indeed, Hurricane Electric claims to be the No. 1 IPv6 backbone in the world in terms of the number of IPv6 networks that it peers with and the number of IPv6 routes that it announces.
"We ship around 1G of IPv6 traffic around the globe. We're shipping way more than 100M into one customer in Hong Kong alone," Levy says. "We have more IPv6 traffic on the global Internet than anybody else. We know that."
Experts verify that Hurricane Electric runs one of the biggest and best-connected IPv6 networks. Geoff Huston, chief scientist at APNIC, says Hurricane Electric peers with 481 other IPv6 networks, more than twice the number of its nearest rival Tiscali, which has 189 IPv6 peers.
"If you equate largest to the best-connected network, yes" Hurricane Electric is the world's largest IPv6 network, Huston says. "Or even if you equate largest to the network that sits at the center of the IPv6 Internet, again yes this is true."
Hurricane Electric admits that other carriers such as NTT may carry more IPv6 traffic on private networks.
"Private IPv6 networks are things that we have no visibility into," Levy says. "NTT's Video over IPv6 multicast service inside Japan is walled off. So is the earthquake warning system in Japan and the Beijing Olympics temperature control system. These all run over IPv6. But in terms of IPv6 service on the public Internet, we are the leader."
Hurricane Electric's IPv6 customers include regional ISPs, international networks, research networks and Web content providers.
"We are a wholesale provider," Levy explains. "You can't buy a DSL line from us or a T1 for your office. We don't do small circuits....We sell to other large international telecoms. We sell to hosting companies. We sell to small cable companies."
Hurricane Electric is starting to offer IPv6 services in the enterprise market.
"We have never been a big corporate player, and this is something that we are changing," Levy says. "We do have a couple of interesting corporate customers because people have come to us specifically for IPv6."
Until recently, Hurricane Electric saw far more IPv6 activity in Europe and Asia than in the United States. But the ISP sees promise in the IPv6 efforts by Comcast and other big carriers.
"Should a player like Comcast deploy a real IPv6 service, that will mean the ability to turn on one million users at a time. It will make France's Free network seem small," Levy says.
Levy is encouraging U.S. CIOs to get serious about IPv6.
"If you continue to ignore this, you are going to really, really be in trouble," Levy advises. "That can be mitigated very simply by taking a small group of people who actually have an interest in networking technology and give them the time to understand and experiment with IPv6....You need to get your toes in the water and get an understanding of IPv6 because this is not going away. You really can't ignore it."