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Ready or not, IPv6 is coming

Google attempts to avert interweb end-of-days scenario

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Analysis Google last week touted the benefits and ease of switching to IPv6, the next generation internet protocol, while the IT world in general remains resolutely indifferent about the technology.

Uptake of IPv6 is low, despite predictions that IPv4 numbers will become used up in as little as two years. A recent survey by the Internet Society found that many within a small sample of internet industry heavy hitters reckoned IPv6 uptake was being driven more by fashion than a strong business case.

That's far from a universal view, with Google amongst the strongest proponents of early adoption of the next generation internet technology.

A team of Google engineers has worked on an IPv6 transition project on a part-time basis for about 18 months. The work means that the majority of the search engine giant's applications and services have supported IPv6 (as explained here) since January. Google Maps IPv6 support was added last month.

"We can provide all Google services over IPv6," Google network engineer Lorenzo Colitti said during a panel discussion at a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) last week.

Google engineers took IPv6 from the development of network architecture blueprints and software engineering work, through a trial phase, until Google made IPv6-based services publicly available. The project used 20 per cent of a team of Google engineers' time between July 2007 until its completion in January 2009.

Putting together a pilot IPv6 network "was not expensive" nor particularly difficult, according to Colitti, who advised organisations to roll out next-generation IPv6 networks in stages. Colitti said that moving to IPv6 reduces the infrastructure and support costs associated with piece-meal upgrades to existing IPv4 systems, such as the addition of additional layers of Network Address Translator kit. NAT equipment allows multiple internet-connected devices to present the same IP address.

Colitti's paper on the benefits of IPv6, presented during the conference, can be found here.

Chicken and Egg

Google recently hosted a conference for IPv6 implementers, shortly after the ad aggregator published a manifesto on why IPv6 was a significant technology.

By expanding the number of IP addresses - enough for three billion addresses for every person on the planet - IPv6 will clear the way for the next generation of VoIP, video conferencing, mobile applications, "smart" appliances (Internet-enabled heating systems, cars, refrigerators, and other devices) and other novel applications.

In a report prepared for the National Institute of Standards & Technology in 2005, RTI International estimated annual benefits in excess of $10 billion.

Unfortunately, IPv6 presents a classic chicken-and-egg problem. The benefits of any one network operator, device vendor, application and content provider, or Internet user adopting IPv6 are limited if there is not a critical mass of other adopters. As a result, adoption lags.

Despite this enthusiasm (from Google at least) only a minority of organisations, admittedly very significant players including the US federal government, engineering services firm Bechtel, UK academic network JANET and err... The Pirate Bay, have embraced the next-generation Internet protocol.

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