Colleges join internet goliaths in long-awaited protocol change

Colleges are expected to use IPv4 for another decade.

June 6 was perhaps the most important day in the history of the commercial internet, and hardly anyone noticed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and a host of the web’s most visited sites made the switch to the Internet Protocol Version 6 that day—known as World IPv6 Day—marking a momentous shift from the old protocol, IPv4, after it ran out of web addresses last year.

Colleges and universities have followed suit as well, turning to IPv6 after years of preparation on the part of campus technology leaders and their IT staffers, and so far, everything has gone smoothly.

Campus technology officials said students and faculty reported some difference in the speed of the campus network in the hours and days after the transition, likely because the IPv6-supported machines are using a far less congested network.

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The absence of blaring headlines about internet slowdowns and outages was a decidedly good thing for campus technology officials who have made network alterations and hardware upgrades for years ahead of World IPv6 Day.

“I would say the change from IPv4 to IPv6 is certainly going to be one of the single biggest overhauls in the fundamental foundation of the internet,” said Casey Russell, director of IT at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where the IT staff first made plans for the IPv6 shift in 2008.

Small campuses like Fort Scott, Russell said, probably can make the major changes necessary to move away from IPv6 far more quickly than a massive research institution.

Shifting to the new protocol four years ahead of World IPv6 Day wasn’t prompted by any “external pressures” or stalled by bureaucratic infighting, he said.

“At universities, you have many more layers of decision making to get through,” he said. “It’s just a much more complicated setup at the university level. … It wasn’t like that for us, so we decided to take the plunge.”

Colleges and universities in early 2012 looked to The Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), along with the Internet Society, for advice on how to make the protocol shift. The groups introduced a website in January, called Deploy360, that included case studies, best practices, and a host of technical papers designed to help IT officials convert to IPv6.

Richard Jimmerson, member of the Internet Society and head of Deploy360, said research universities connected to the ultrafast Internet2 network were ahead of the curve in switching from IPv4 to IPv6.

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