Yahoo IPv6 Upgrade Could Shut out A Million Internet Users

Illustration: Jack Gallagher
Second-largest engineering project

Yahoo has been working on IPv6 development since 2008, but in the last year it has become the company's second-largest IT infrastructure project. Only ongoing tech refresh efforts are costing Yahoo more engineering time and effort these days, executives say.

"In 2010, we rolled IPv6 into a corporate program called IP Survivability. We're taking a two-pronged approach. We need to stretch out our IPv4 usage longer, as well as get to the point where we can deploy IPv6. We probably have around 100 to 150 people involved," Fesler says.

Yahoo has IPv6-enabled routers deployed, supports IPv6 peering with other carriers, and has connected one of its data centers to the Internet via IPv6. In order to serve up IPv6 content, the company's engineers developed software for address translation, caching and proxying - dubbed the Yahoo Traffic Server - that it provided to the Apache Foundation last year as open source code.

"We have the Yahoo Traffic Server up and running, but we don't have it available to end users yet," Bechtel says. "We're still in the process of vetting it and getting our processes in line to make sure we get all the kinks worked out."

Bechtel describes IPv6 as presenting "an immense, immense set of challenges" for a Web site with as much traffic as Yahoo's.

"The network piece is pretty far along for most, but you've got all the operational pieces and the instrumentation," Bechtel says. "One out of every 2,000 users is going to have some level of brokenness. There are issues that carrier-grade NATs are going to introduce with the aggregation of IP addresses. The issue of geo-targeting is very significant, too... IPv6 is touching a lot of our people."

Yahoo is hoping that it can deploy IPv6 on its main Web site without having to rely on DNS whitelisting, a technique that Google has deployed to serve up IPv6 content only to users who are known to have end-to-end IPv6 connectivity and no IPv6 brokenness.

"At this time we don't see a way to avoid [DNS whitelisting]," Fesler says. "But hopefully as part of the outcome of World IPv6 Day and further benchmarking of users, we'll be able to find out that the level of IPv6 brokenness is such that it's not necessary."

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Yahoo's embrace of IPv6 is good news for IPv6 proponents because the site reaches more than 25% of all Internet users, Alexa says. Yahoo is the fourth most popular Web site on the Internet.

The top three traffic-producing Web sites - Google, Facebook and YouTube - already support IPv6 on special-purpose Web addresses, rather than their main Web sites.

Yahoo is embracing IPv6 because it believes that an increasing number of those users will be accessing the Internet on IPv6-based devices, such as smartphones that connect to Verizon's LTE network.

"What are really driving us to IPv6 are two concerns," Bechtel says. "We couldn't scale with the available IPv4 space, and equally important was having IPv6 customers be able to connect to us. We realized that customers would not be able to get to us in the 2012 time frame."

Having focused on IPv6 for several years, Yahoo executives say they are surprised by the number of Internet companies seemingly in denial that IPv4 depletion is a serious issue.

"There is still some sentiment that people think this isn't real, that IPv4 may exhaust but we may figure out ways around it," Bechtel says. "In the end, people are going to spend as much time on those workarounds as they would going to IPv6."

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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