Hurricane Electric claims world’s largest IPv6 backbone

Brocade Networks announced last week that it provides the routers and switches that underpin the network backbone operated by Hurricane Electric, a leader in next-generation Internet services using the emerging IPv6 standard. Brocade’s announcement is the latest sign of how the U.S. network industry is suddenly focused on IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet’s main communications protocol called IPv4.

Hurricane Electric claims to operate the world’s largest, most-interconnected IPv6 backbone, with IPv6-based connections to 1,200 other networks.

Related Story: Time is running out for IPv4: Here’s what you need to know

Hurricane Electric said it uses Brocade Netiron XMR Internet core routers as well as Brocade MLXe core routers in its backbone network and co-location facility in Fremont, Calif.

Hurricane Electric has been a customer of Brocade’s IPv6-enabled routers since 2008, when Brocade purchased rival Foundry Networks.

“We did a tech refresh four years ago, and we did a bake-off amongst the various hardware vendors. We wanted unbelievably reliable IPv6 support, IPv6 that was on par with IPv4. We picked Foundry as our original manufacturer, and Brocade acquired them,” explained Martin Levy, director of IPv6 strategy at Hurricane Electric. “Now we’ve upgraded part of our backbone with Brocade’s MLXe platform. …We’ve been able to keep our leadership in IPv6 by having a platform from Brocade that gives us reliable dual-stack operation.”

Levy said Hurricane Electric is sticking with Brocade for its latest network expansion because “we’ve been very happy with their platform.” He said Hurricane Electric is deploying the latest Brocade IPv6 routers at its largest Points of Presence (POPs), including San Jose, Calif., Ashburn, Va., and Amsterdam.

“Foundry offered us a serious router platform operating at Internet core capabilities, that could handle massive routing tables and had damn fast chips and all the bells and whistles we needed including software that supported both BGP and the other routing protocols that are fundamental to the core of the Internet,” Levy said. “We had the old Foundry XMR platform, and now that’s being upgraded to the Brocade MLXe platform that is also capable of global routing and doing IPv6 that’s on par with IPv4.”
Levy said one advantage of Brocade’s IPv6 routers is that they offer detailed measurements of IPv6 traffic flows.

“We’ve had from the beginning the ability to do IPv6 flow measurements. That alone has given us enormous insight into how things are evolving on our backbone,” Levy said.

Hurricane Electric’s network upgrade is good news for Brocade, which is trying to position itself as a dominant player in IPv6. For example, Brocade already supports IPv6 on its public-facing Web site after it was pressured to do so by its U.S. military customers.

Brocade is focused on the emerging IPv6 market because the Internet is running out of address space using IPv4.

In February, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) announced that the free pool of unassigned IPv4 addresses was depleted. Experts say it will take anywhere from three to six months for the regional Internet registries to distribute most of the remaining IPv4 addresses to carriers.

IPv4 has run out of address space because it uses 32-bit addresses and can support only 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices — 2 to the 128th power. The problem for network operators is that IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4.

When the last of the IPv4 addresses are distributed, carriers and other network operators will have to either deploy IPv6 or use network address translation (NAT) devices to share IPv4 addresses among multiple customers or translate between IPv4 and IPv6 networks, which could slow down network performance.

By demonstrating support from service provider customers like Hurricane Electric, Brocade is hoping it will win more business from network operators upgrading to IPv6.

“Brocade will continue to innovate in IPv6 to create one of the industry’s most complete set of IPv6 unicast, multicast and transition protocols,” said Ken Cheng, vice president of Service Provider Products for Brocade, in a statement. “Brocade has a strong roadmap to support both enterprise and service provider IPv6 dual-stack environments, and we continue to be a leading player in helping governments and organizations worldwide in their transition to IPv6.”

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