Skip to main content

SCinet Brings IPv6 to the Blue Bear and SC23

scinet group

Has your network exhausted your Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) addresses? SCinet, the SC Conference’s research and science network, is taking the plunge to promote IP Version 6 (IPv6) adoption at SC23. At SCinet, roughly 200 IT professionals from universities, government agencies, and supercomputing centers across the globe assemble to build the fastest temporary network in the world for the SC Conference. Given the temporary and experimental nature of SCinet, it is positioned as a perfect environment to test creative ways to solve problems facing many in the HPC community.

An IPv6 Proponent

SCinet has long been a proponent of IPv6, having made IPv6 available to attendees and participants since 2003, and has used the network’s experimental nature to progress the implementation of IPv6 across many network and software platforms over the years.

For SC22, SCinet continued its IPv6 efforts. The SCinet Wireless Team created a dual stacked (providing both IPv4 and IPv6) wireless network for the conference attendees. If you did not notice, you have the expert volunteers of SCinet to thank. 

“For SC22, the Wireless Team enabled IPv6 in the Aruba wireless infrastructure along with RA Guard for added protection,” explained Jeff Hagley of PIER Group, who is Co-Chair of SCinet Wireless/Edge. “This was a massive effort that required close collaboration between the Security/Routing/DevOps/Wireless teams. This collaboration made it possible for clients connecting to the SC wireless network to access the internet using IPv6.”

Trend Conference Traffic by IP Version at SC22

Routing Advertisement Guard (RA Guard) for IPv6 helps block malicious actors from changing another device’s IPv6 configuration when using Stateless Address Auto-Configuration (SLAAC) for its IPv6 address assignment.

Using technologies such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol Version 6 (DHCPv6) and Stateless Address Auto-Configuration (SLAAC), modern client devices could request IPv6 addresses if their software stack supported the standard. Results from this effort highlighted that many newer devices and operating systems conform to current standards, preferring IPv6 communications over legacy IPv4 when available.

Filling a Critical Need

Today marks a critical point for IPv6. By the end of fiscal year 2025, the U.S. government (per OMB M-21-07) is requiring all agencies to migrate 80 percent of their assets off of legacy IPv4. An ever-increasing number of Internet-connected devices, government requirements, and significant industry progress have fueled the surge in IPv6 use across the entire Internet. As of July 2023, Google’s IPv6 availability statistics illustrate that global IPv6 usage for its users sits at around 39-43 percent, depending on the weekday (greater on weekends). Adoption between countries remains uneven among Internet service providers. [1]

SC23 SCinet Chair Hans Addleman, from Indiana University, stated IPv6 adoption is a top priority for the SC23 conference network.

“The adoption and implementation of internet standards, like IPv6, fulfill a critical need for networks around the world. SCinet is pleased to be able to show leadership and encourage our volunteers to take these lessons back to their home institutions.”

— Hans Addleman, SC23 SCinet Chair

With this in mind, the SC23 SCinet team is working toward making IPv6 adoption even greater at this year’s SC Conference. Among the goals, SCinet will be implementing an IPv6-only management network and enable DHCP option 108 for wireless. Option 108 leverages capabilities published in the recent RFC 8925. A host requests an IPv4 address from a DHCP server, and the server responds over IPv4 with a DHCP packet that has an Option 108 set.

This option communicates to the host that the network supports IPv6 and to turn off its IPv4 network stack. If the host does not support Option 108, it will ignore the message and request an IPv4 address instead. This allows for IPv6-capable devices to get on the network using IPv6 only, while other devices can continue to operate using IPv4.

Historical Context

The Internet as known today became the information highway with the launch of the World Wide Web and the Web Browser in 1993. However, the foundational work conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense on a network called ARPANET later led to the introduction of the IPv4 communication standard in 1983. During this period, the Internet was a resource predominantly used by government agencies and academics for research collaboration. 

The IPv4 protocol is an open-standards-based set of rules that defines how machines can exchange information on the Internet using a unique identifier called the IP address. Similar to your home address, the IP address identifies where a networked computing device lives on the Internet. While IPv4 has made the Internet go round for decades, it was never intended to scale to the number of users and devices that leverage the information highway today. 

Through enhancements to the IPv4 standard and translation services, such as Network Address Translation (NAT) where an IP address is translated from a private RFC 1918 reserved address to a publicly routable Internet address, network operators have been able to extend the useful life of IPv4. All of these technologies add operational complexity, as well as barriers, to innovation. Further, the urgency to switch networks to IPv6 is increasing. As recently as 2019, the last Regional Internet Registry (RIR) RIPE exhausted its remaining IPv4 addresses.

Why Change Is Good

IPv6 was first introduced by the Internet Engineering Task Force as a standard in 1999. Among its enhancements, IPv6 expands the number of addresses from 4.29 billion (with IPv4) to 340 trillion addresses. Given that, why is IPv4 still the predominant standard in the Internet today? 

Nicholas Buraglio, an SCinet volunteer and the implementation lead at ESnet for IPv6 and compliance with the IPv6-only Federal OMB M-21-07 mandate, explained: “Today, the limiting factors are, by and large, two-fold: lack of resources and lack of knowledge. Lack of those two impediments, coupled with the ubiquitous existence of address translation and its incorrect conflation with security.” 

These limitations also may be aided by the lack of a perceived business driver.

“I think the biggest challenge is getting people to see the value in adopting IPv6, and the capabilities it can bring,” said Shannon Champion, an SCinet Volunteer from PIER Group. “This lack of customer requests has slowed the vendors down in implementing a one-for-one feature parity across the products.”

“The biggest challenge is getting people to see the value in adopting IPv6, and the capabilities it can bring.”

— Shannon Champion, PIER Group

One way to ameliorate this lack of value recognition is to give people an opportunity to use IPv6, which is exactly what SCinet intends to do at SC23. 

“SCinet is making a large push this year for IPv6-only management networks for contributor provided equipment,” Champion added. “This will help to ensure that in the future, this equipment is IPv6 ready. In addition to that, SCinet is providing IPv6 on the user-facing networks to demonstrate it is safe to deploy at home organizations.” 

Setting up IPv6 at SC23 and pushing for its adoption is demanding work, but it is crucial for moving the industry forward. According to Buraglio, “In working with IPv6, SCinet is allowing engineers, especially those in the federal space, to get hands-on IPv6 experience in a production environment. They can then carry that experience back to their home institutions to aid in their IPv6 implementations that further the OMB requirement for moving off of legacy IP.”

Although IPv6 is a solution to the problems facing IPv4, some people may still hesitate to adopt it due to the amount of perceived work involved. Regardless, the tides of change are coming—the federal mandate is in place, and the 2025 deadline will be here in the blink of an eye. A growing number of providers have put their support behind IPv6. Amazon Web Services (AWS) even held its own “IPv6 Day” event in June 2023. Amazon also announced it will begin charging an hourly rate for publicly routable IPv4 addresses in AWS beginning February 2024. [2]

Get Hands-On at SC23

SCinet’s work at SC23 will allow people to get hands-on experience with IPv6 and, hopefully, get the wheels spinning for how to implement it once they are back at their home institutions. For some, the change still may be overwhelming. For those wanting advice on how to get started, Champion has this to offer: “Start off with dual stacked networks across the organization. In addition to that, go into new projects with the mindset of an IPv6 service with legacy IPv4 support. This will make you have the conversation about IPv6 support for the project, and have you justify why to not have it instead of why to have it.” 

To learn more about the SCinet IPv6 implementation, visit SCinet Booth 1081 at SC23 in Denver.



Stay Up to Date

Sign up to receive the SC newsletter in your inbox.

Information provided is treated in accordance with ACM & IEEE privacy policies.

Back To Top Button