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Canadian University Gets Ready for IPv6 with Easy-to-Deploy F5 Solution

McGill University, a leading research university based in Montreal, Quebec, wanted to demonstrate it was ready to support Internet Protocol version 6  (IPv6) as part of an overall network modernization effort. The university chose to implement the IPv6 Gateway feature built into F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager.  As a result, McGill was one of the few universities worldwide to be IPv6-compatible on World IPv6 Day, a global event enabling users to “test-drive” IPv6-ready websites. By taking advantage of features in the F5 products it already owned, the university saved time and money and also proved to its management that it had the right technology to support IPv6 now and in the future.

Business Challenges

 

McGill University, founded in 1821, is one of the leading research universities in the world. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the school has more than 36,000 students and 215,000 alumni. McGill, known for its medical research and discoveries, was ranked first in Canada among institutions offering medical and doctoral degrees by Maclean’s magazine in 2011. The university was also ranked first in Canada and 17th in the world in the 2011 QS World University Ranking.

Like many other universities and organizations, McGill must stay on the leading edge of technology. That means complying with new standards such as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), a version of the IP that succeeds IPv4. Historically, the Internet has run on IPv4 networks, but IPv4 addresses are quickly being depleted, and many new mobile devices and operators are moving toward only supporting IPv6.  Because the two protocols are not directly compatible, organizations worldwide must begin supporting IPv6 to ensure that their websites and content can be accessed by users on either type of network.

McGill had to plan for a migration to IPv6.  “The university is engaged in research partnerships and shares a lot of research information with other universities around the world, such as schools in China where IPv6 is already prevalent,” says Chung Yu, Senior Network Analyst at McGill University.  “In the short term, we wanted to support those researchers. Thinking more long-term, we will be required to function in an IPv6 world, so we wanted to be ready.”

Becoming fully IPv6-ready was also timely because the university had started a network modernization initiative. “IPv6 capabilities are a big part of this initiative, in terms of equipment and training,” adds Yu.  “Because of that, we wanted to demonstrate to our management that we would be ready for IPv6 as part of this initiative.”

To meet these goals, McGill University decided to conduct a proof of concept (POC) that would show how specific university applications would work in an IPv6 environment. The university chose to test the POC on World IPv6 Day. Held on June 8, 2011, the event gave universities and other organizations the opportunity to demonstrate their IPv6 readiness by hosting select websites on IPv6 infrastructures. The sites were then directly accessible to users of IPv6 devices.

“We needed to guarantee support for … IPv6 services, and show that those services work as seamlessly as the existing IPv4 technology. We were able to achieve these goals using BIG-IP LTM.” Chung Yu, Senior Network Analyst, McGill University

Solution

 

To prepare for World IPv6 Day, McGill wanted to provide translation services between IPv4 and IPv6 for its public website, www.mcgill.ca, as well as other public web services. To get the right technology, McGill turned to F5 Networks. McGill University had used F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices for several years to provide application delivery services, including load balancing and high availability, for its academic, administrative, and public-facing web applications.

While meeting with an F5 team to discuss the project, Yu and his IT group learned that BIG-IP LTM is “dual-stacked,” meaning it can support both IPv4 and IPv6. By providing  protocol translation services—sometimes  referred to as an IPv6–IPv4 gateway, the BIG-IP system can handle both IPv4 and IPv6  traffic and translate between the two, with no new hardware or software needed. And because protocol translation is transparent to users, there is no impact to those using IPv6-only devices. Additionally, a gradual transition to IPv6 is possible because the technology does not require immediate back-end system changes to support users.

McGill acquired a v6 circuit from its local Internet service provider (ISP); once the circuit was connected, the university assigned IPv6 addresses to its existing web servers, so those servers had both v4 and v6 addresses. Then, McGill was able to use the BIG-IP LTM dual-stack features to send both v4 and v6 requests to the same servers.

In the future, when McGill needs to support translation between IPv4 and IPv6, the university can take advantage of the BIG-IP system’s built-in translation services.

“Because we were already running the latest version of BIG-IP LTM, it was just a matter of turning on the IPv6 Gateway capabilities, which were free.” Chung Yu, Senior Network Analyst, McGill University

Benefits

 

Using the IPv6 Gateway feature in BIG-IP LTM, McGill University quickly and easily set up its network for World IPv6 Day, demonstrating to management that it had the right technology to support the newer protocol. The university was also able to save time and money by using existing F5 technology resources.

Provides easy deployment

Because IPv6 support is built into BIG-IP LTM McGill University was able to quickly enable the enhanced protocol support. “It only took me a few minutes to configure the BIG-IP LTM devices to talk to our web services, and we had our public website running on IPv6,” says Yu. “That easy deployment was critical for us, and gave us the ability to be prepared immediately for World IPv6 Day. We were able to get an IPv6 footprint without making any major changes to our back-end system.”

Enables full IPv6 compatibility

Using BIG-IP LTM, McGill University achieved its primary goal of being IPv6-ready on World IPv6 Day. In fact, it was the only Quebec University to do so. Although the traffic load that day was moderate, McGill was mainly interested in determining if users had any difficulties accessing the network on IPv6. “We knew if we installed everything correctly and used the right technology, users shouldn’t notice any difference,” says Yu. “We had no complaints from users that day, either via IPv4 or IPv6.”

Demonstrates network modernization capabilities

For McGill, the benefits of being IPv6-compliant went beyond World IPv6 Day. For example, being able to translate between an IPv4 client to an IPv6 web site, or vice versa, will be critical in the future. “We demonstrated to management that our network is moving forward, and that we won’t be blindsided by the new technology,” says Yu. “To continue modernizing, we needed to guarantee support for a growing number of IPv6 services, and show that those services work as seamlessly on the network as the existing IPv4 technology does. We were able to achieve those goals using BIG-IP LTM and its IPv6 Gateway capabilities.”

Saves time and money

By taking advantage of features available in its existing F5 implementation, McGill avoided the need to build a non-production server for World IPv6 Day. “We saved a significant number of hours by using the IPv6 Gateway feature of BIG-IP LTM,” Yu says. “Without it, we would have had to build a new web server for that testing period, utilizing resources from our web services team to configure the server so it could talk to the database. Because we were already running the latest version of BIG-IP LTM, it was just a matter of turning on the IPv6 Gateway capabilities, which were free. Overall, it was an ideal way for us to extend the capabilities we already had, by using the additional built-in features.”