IPv6: Are we ready? Let's go

Samantha Bookman, FierceTelecomLast year, World IPv6 Day got lots of attention from industry folks and consumers alike. The last block of IPv4 addresses had been distributed a few weeks earlier, and there was plenty of concern about whether the Internet would keep working, speculation that this would be bigger than Y2K, and predictions that transitioning to an IPv6 framework would be difficult and expensive for most companies.

So, where are we a year later? Well, the Internet didn't self-destruct in a wave of error codes (though I'm surprised the SyFy Channel didn't churn out a poorly-CGI'ed movie about that possibility at some point). In fact, users will continue to reach most of the public-facing websites they're trying to access, whether they're traveling over IPv4 or a v6 capable network. But the real work has just begun.

That's a point the Internet Society is working to get across. Tomorrow, they'll call the public's attention to migration once again with World IPv6 Launch. The difference this year is that the participating providers, once they turn on their IPv6 websites, will not turn them off again.

Real talk

World IPv6 Launch June 6"This time it is for real," the Internet Society (ISOC) trumpets on its home page, as it counts down the hours to June 6.

Major providers representing a cross-section of industry segments have committed to the event. Besides search engine providers Yahoo! (Nasdaq:YHOO), Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Bing, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) (which left its v6 sites operational after last year's event), cable operators Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) are on board for Launch day. IPTV provider AT&T will be participating, as will equipment vendors including Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) and D-Link, who are committed to providing v6-enabled equipment.

Comcast, in fact, announced today that it has enabled IPv6 in one-third of the company's broadband network, according to DSLReports, and that roughly 5 percent of its users can take advantage of it. That's a jump from the figures Comcast engineer John Brzozowski gave a panel audience at The Cable Show two weeks ago: that approximately 4 percent of its subscribers have a v6-capable personal computer, while only 1 percent of its subs had gateways that were v6 capable. Equipment with v6 enabled by default, he acknowledged, would speed up deployment "dramatically."

That's one of the issues that ISOC hopes to help resolve as companies migrate to a dual-stack architecture—IPv6 capability in all the equipment and devices that access the Internet that meets the IPv6 Ready II Standard.

Compatibility of equipment, always-on v6—it's not as intensely interesting to the public as the doomsday scenario some media outlets laid out last year. This is the nuts and bolts stuff of IPv6, the background work that needs to be done to really increase v6 traffic.

Traffic increases, security aren't an issue

A concern that some critics are still raising is the possibility that the Internet won't be able to support a huge increase in v6 traffic. This isn't really a problem, says Owen DeLong, IPv6 evangelist at Hurricane Electric (whose birthday is, serendipitously, on June 6). While Hurricane Electric forecasts that, in the next year, v6 traffic will double, if not quadruple, the impact of that traffic won't be an issue.

"All the traffic ramping up on v6 is traffic ramping down from v4," he told FierceTelecom. "It's traversing the same routers and infrastructure."

Hurricane Electric IPv6 traffic stats

Hurricane Electric's May 2012 chart shows a buildup of IPv6 traffic from June 2011. Exact numbers weren't provided.

DeLong, who's pretty much the "keep calm and carry on" guru of IPv6 migration, also feels that concern over the security of IPv6 networks--denial of service attacks, shadow networks, and so on--is overblown. "Distributed denial of service is not greater than what we've seen on IPv4," he said. "It's largely a red herring. We address (attacks) much the same as we do on v4, and the Internet still works. Companies focusing on security issues are looking for excuses not to migrate."

He feels that the sooner companies turn on IPv6, the more experience they'll have with keeping it on and the better they'll be able to respond to stumbling blocks as they appear. That's another factor in World IPv6 Launch that companies should consider.

Tracking Launch day

A number of providers and metrics companies, including Arbor Networks and Akamai, will be measuring traffic during World IPv6 Launch, just as they did last year. It'll be interesting to compare their results following the event. Hurricane Electric, which provides service for 58.6 percent of the world's IPv6 networks, transiting 5,253 routes for 3,342 ASNs (autonomous system numbers), provided a chart showing the rise in v6 traffic leading up to tomorrow's Launch day, and will be analyzing traffic as well.

So, are we really ready for IPv6? Tomorrow likely won't prove that providers and vendors are truly "ready," but it will focus a spotlight on the fact that companies have to keep moving forward on implementing v6 in their networks, as well as demanding v6 capability from their ISPs and equipment manufacturers.--Sam

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