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World IPv6 Day fails to kill the internet

Publicity stunt over, now the work begins

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World IPv6 Day was the non-event everybody hoped it would be.

For 24 hours yesterday, more than 400 major internet companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, joined in with the largest-scale production test of the next generation Internet Protocol to date.

Organised by the Internet Society, the project was intended to raise awareness about the need to start the global transition to IPv6 and to enable participants to gather data about potential glitches.

Today, some of the larger companies involved reported that the event was a success.

"We saw over 1 million users reach us over IPv6," blogged Facebook senior network engineer Donn Lee. "We’re pleased that we did not see any increase in the number of users seeking help from our Help Center. The estimated 0.03% of users who may have been affected would have experienced slow page loads during the test."

Facebook intends to continue to dual-stack its developer pages with both IPv4 and IPv6 now that World IPv6 Day is over, Lee said.

Google "IPv6 Samurai" Lorenzo Colitti was similarly enthused.

"We carried about 65% more IPv6 traffic than usual, saw no significant issues and did not have to disable IPv6 access for any networks or services," he wrote on the official Google blog. "Over the next few weeks, we’ll be working together with the other participants to analyze the data we’ve collected, but, at least on the surface, the first global test of IPv6 passed without incident."

The internet has been using IPv4, with its paltry 4.3 billion possible addresses, since its earliest days, but those addresses have almost all been assigned.

ICANN's top-level repository of IPv4 expired in February, and the pools of addresses still unallocated to ISPs, entrusted to the world's five Regional Internet Registries, are dwindling.

Within the next year or so, individuals that want to connect to the net and companies that want to launch new services will largely only be able to do so using IPv6, with its 340 trillion trillion trillion possible address combinations.

IPv4 and IPv6 are not compatible – the difference has been compared to two separate internets – so users assigned IPv6 addresses by their ISPs will not be able to connect to services that only use IPv4. Likewise, businesses that can only obtain IPv6 addresses will not be able to transact with customers on IPv4-only networks.

With World IPv6 Day, companies that would ordinarily compete grouped together to highlight this looming problem. Google had predicted that about 0.05% of internet users would find themselves unable to connect to its services, most likely due to old, poorly configured home routers.

Many network operators having been dragging their feet when it comes to fully supporting IPv6, but this is likely to change over the coming year as more internet users are unable to obtain IPv4.

This problem is likely to hit first in Asia, where the growth in internet usage is the strongest and the there's a lower level of legacy IPv4 allocations, according to Simon McCalla, director of IT at .uk registry Nominet. For the West, this means IPv6 is going to be critical to international trade.

There is a worry that the emerging secondary market for unused IPv4 – Microsoft recently bought 666,000 addresses from Nortel for $7.5 million – may delay the uptake of IPv6, but this is likely to diminish as the price of upgrading falls.

In the UK, industry organisations and government have grouped together under the banner 6UK to promote the use of IPv6. The collective met yesterday in London with internet minister Ed Vaizey MP to discuss the barriers to and drivers of IPv6 adoption, McCalla said.

"It's important that both ISPs and infrastructure providers provide viable IPv6 connections to their customers, and they all have plans afoot to do that," he said. ®

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