AWS IPv6 support answers call for IP address space

IPv6 is not new, but the proliferation of the internet of things creates new demand for the protocol. And AWS has responded in deliberate fashion.

AWS' recent support of an internet protocol that predates its own cloud follows new levels of enterprise interest.

AWS added Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) support for Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances in Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) across 15 global regions. AWS IPv6 support enables communication between web-facing resources, back-end services and end users to improve application connectivity and performance.

IPv6 expands the number of available IP addresses by using a 128-bit system -- dwarfing the number of IPv4 addresses, which have dwindled rapidly in the last few years. AWS IPv6 support targets customers who seek to remove the various steps needed to connect IPv4 requests to sites through network address translation (NAT), which can be particularly beneficial with internet of things (IoT) deployments

While the demand for AWS IPv6 support was initially quiet, it is ramping up.

"Amazon typically does not support features and services that it doesn't see demand for, so I think this is an indication that IPv6 has hit their radar," said Carl Brooks, analyst at 451 Research.

The public cloud provider's slow and controlled support for IPv6 in services such as Elastic Load Balancing, AWS Direct Connect and Amazon Route 53 -- and now EC2 instances in VPC -- reflects a conservative, safe approach to make sure everything works well, Brooks said. "A big part of the issue is that it has to replace network infrastructure and architecture, which is no fun at all," he said.

AWS customers with elaborate deployments face a potentially painstaking process to make existing resources compatible with IPv6. IT teams must update references to Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets and VPC routes after switching to IPv6 to ensure dual-stack capability -- support for both IPv4 and IPv6, explained Scott Hogg, CTO at Global Technology Resources Inc., an AWS partner in Denver, and the chair emeritus of the Rocky Mountain IPv6 Task Force.

"There's some work for organizations that have been operating in the cloud for some time," Hogg said. "You have to go back through all of your environments and edit those VPC configurations or S3 buckets and add IPv6. When you go in to add IPv6, your bucket name might change."

AWS' IPv6 support for EC2 instances inside VPC extends to the U.S. East (Northern Virginia), U.S. East (Ohio), U.S. West (Northern California), U.S. West (Oregon), South America (São Paulo), Canada (Central), EU (Ireland), EU (Frankfurt), EU (London), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), Asia Pacific (Singapore), Asia Pacific (Seoul), Asia Pacific (Sydney), Asia Pacific (Mumbai) and AWS GovCloud regions. Application Load Balancer also gained support for IPv6 in nine regions.

Each of the top public cloud providers has been slow to adopt IPv6. Microsoft Azure unveiled dual-stack VMs last September in all but five regions. Google, which participated in the World IPv6 Launch in 2012 and includes support for Chrome, does not offer IPv6 support for Google Compute Engine. DigitalOcean and Rackspace were among the few cloud providers to support IPv6.

Some specialty vendors in the market, meanwhile, have been quicker to embrace the protocol. For example, the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network service risked losing ground to IPv6-enabled tools, like Akamai and Cloudflare. But before AWS could enable IPv6 support for CloudFront, it needed to extend the same capability to S3 buckets where content resides. This created a snowball effect toward broader support for the protocol.

IoT spotlights IPv6 need

The growth of IoT also drives IPv6 support, as internet-enabled devices multiply the number of IP addresses. IoT devices that rely on one or more layers of NAT slow connections back to data processing endpoints and add an undesirable layer of anonymity to an endpoint obscured by NAT.

"With IPv6, it's end-to-end native communication, so the [device] can talk natively to the cloud-based infrastructure without translation, very fast," Hogg said.

From the outset, the AWS IoT service included IPv6 support for message exchanges between cloud infrastructure and devices. Larger, multinational businesses seek to build a cohesive network complete with edge computing, Brooks said, and AWS is moving to fill that need.

As AWS gradually expands IPv6 support, it could next target monitoring and messaging tools, with a possible eye toward support for native databases and Amazon WorkSpaces, Hogg noted.

"If we can judge by past updates to the platform, it's going to happen in a fairly organized fashion, and it's going to happen when Amazon feels like doing it," Brooks said.

David Carty is the site editor for SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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