World IPv6 Day Set

The Internet Society is sponsoring a World IPv6 Day to provide the first global test of the Internet infrastructure changes needed to support the new IPv6 [Internet Protocol, version 6] addressing scheme, on June 8, 2011.  Several major Internet services, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Akamai, have agreed to take part in a 24-hour test of the new facilities.

The goal of the Test Drive Day is to motivate organizations across the industry – Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and web companies – to prepare their services for IPv6 to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out.

The current method of Internet addressing, IPv4, has been in use since the early 1980s.  It uses 32-bit numerical addresses, usually written in the familiar “dotted decimal” notation; this gives the decimal value of each octet of the address, separated by periods.  For example, a local address of this machine is 10.113.2.167.  (Network geeks will recognize that this is a non-routable IPv4 address.)   The problem with IPv4 is that the world is just about out of available addresses.  There are various work-arounds, notably NAT [Network Address Translation], but these don’t really solve the underlying problem.  IPv6 uses a 128-bit address, resulting in a very much larger potential address space with 2128 possible addresses (about 3.4×1038), which should hold us for a while.

Progress in implementing the new standard has not been as quick as many would like.  As an article at Network World reports, the IPv6 facilities that are currently in place are in many cases not directly tied to a service’s main site.

The day-long IPv6 trial is a critical development for content providers such as Google and Facebook, which until now have been supporting IPv6 at separate, dedicated Web addresses rather than on their main traffic-heavy Web sites. Google, for example, says it will enable IPv6 on its main Web sites – including http://www.google.com and http://www.youtube.com – for World IPv6 Day.

Currently, IPv6 traffic represents only a fraction of one percent of total Internet traffic; one of the important objectives of the test is to check that the infrastructure can handle the expected large increase in IPv6 activity.

This is an important step to test technical facilities, and also to nudge service providers and others to make sure that the new standard is fully supported, before we reach the point where Internet performance begins to sag under the weight of too many kludges.  I’m hoping it all goes well; but if I were scheduling a critical Internet roll-out, I think I’d pick a day other than June 8.

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