IPv6 will go fully live on June 6. That's the date when 50-plus access networks and more than 2,500 websites -- including Google, YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo -- will turn on support for the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol and leave it on for good.
World IPv6 Launch Day is being coordinated by the Internet Society, which is promoting IPv6 as the best strategy for ensuring that the Internet continues to grow as address space becomes increasingly scarce with IPv4, the original version of the Internet Protocol.
Participants in World IPv6 Launch Day are trying to drive home the message to techies worldwide that it's time to start deploying IPv6.
"If you've been waiting to deploy IPv6, there is no reason to continue waiting," says Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer with the Internet Society (ISOC). "There are customers who will view your website over IPv6 now. It isn't experimental. It's out there for real."
Some of the largest ISPs have signed on for World IPv6 Day, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Time Warner here in the United States. Each has agreed to enable IPv6 for 1% of their subscribers by Wednesday.
"One percent was chosen as a metric because it is a big deal," Daigle explains. "It represents a serious commitment by the network operators to provide IPv6. In order to get to 1%, you have to have IPv6 enabled on a considerably larger percentage of your customer base because not everybody has a home router that can do IPv6 or equipment that is configured to use IPv6. To get to 1%, [one ISP executive] estimates that you have to have 10% or more of your network enabled."
Comcast met its goal of IPv6-enabling 1% of its subscribers on May 24.
"We've launched IPv6 to a third of our network at this point," said John Brzozowski, chief architect for IPv6 and distinguished engineer with Comcast. "We will be deploying it to the rest of our network over the balance of this year and likely beyond 2012. At this point, the momentum is there for IPv6, and we are making significant strides in penetration and the number of people that have IPV6 available to them."
Equally significant is the participation by content delivery networks such as Akamai and Limelight. Akamai carries between 20% and 30% of the Internet's Web traffic on any given day, so its support of IPv6 is a boon for the new protocol. Among Akamai's customers are Apple, Lands' End, Ticketmaster and Travelocity.
World IPv6 Launch Day is designed to "send enough IPv6 traffic toward content providers to give them confidence that the big access providers are serious about IPv6 and that they should leave it on at their front doors," Daigle says.
Thousands of popular websites have agreed to permanently enable IPv6 by Wednesday. Some, including Facebook, have already turned on IPv6 in production mode. Other World IPv6 Launch Day participants include: consumer-oriented websites such as Bing and Netflix; U.S. government agencies including NASA and the Census Bureau; universities such as Indiana University and the University of Pennsylvania; and network vendors such as Cisco and Check Point.
"World IPv6 Launch Day is a lot larger than people understand," says John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which doles out IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to network operators in North America. "It's not a small decision for the major content providers to turn on IPv6 and leave it on. From now on, everything they roll out will be on IPv4 and IPv6."
Additionally, four home networking equipment manufacturers -- Cisco, D-Link, NDM Systems and ZyXel Communications -- have agreed to enable IPv6 by default on their home router products by the June 6 deadline.
"There are other home router vendors that are mostly there [with IPv6 support] but for one reason or another haven't gone through the certification process," Daigle says. "We have definitely met our mark in terms of raising awareness with the CPE equipment vendors that IPv6 is real."
Created in 1998 by the Internet Engineering Task Force, IPv6 offers an expanded addressing scheme but is not backward compatible with IPv4. While IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses and can connect up a virtually unlimited number of devices: 2 to the 128th power.
The Internet needs IPv6 because it is running out of IPv4 address space. The free pool of unassigned IPv4 addresses expired in February 2011, and in April 2011 the Asia-Pacific region ran out of all but a few IPv4 addresses being held in reserve for startups. The European registry is expected to deplete its supply of IPv4 addresses in August, and ARIN next summer.
Network and website operators have two choices when it comes to IPv6: They can either support both protocols in what's called dual-stack mode, or translate between IPv4 and IPv6. Until now, most have been unwilling to make the upgrades required to support IPv6 because IPv6 traffic has been so scarce.
That's expected to change after June 6, when IPv6 traffic is expected to surge. While the most recent estimates are that IPv6 represents less than 0.5% of all Internet traffic, participants in World IPv6 Launch Day are hoping to drive IPv6 up to 1% or more of Internet traffic.
"One [college] campus expects that on June 6, 50% percent of its network traffic will be IPv6 because its top four most-visited sites are participating in World IPv6 Launch Day," Daigle says. "It might surprise some enterprises how much IPv6 traffic they will see if their users are going to Google, Facebook or Yahoo."
The anticipated surge of IPv6 traffic after June 6 is expected to bring new security threats along with it.
In February, Arbor Networks reported the first-ever IPv6-based distributed denial-of-service attacks. While IPv6 security incidents remain rare, experts predict that as more Internet traffic flows over IPv6, DDoS attacks, malware and other threats will follow.
Experts say enterprise network managers should upgrade their DDoS detection, intrusion protection and deep packet inspection systems to support IPv6.
"It's time for the enterprise to make sure that their security devices are IPv6-enabled, that they have the ability to look at IPv6 traffic and to create rules for it and do intrusion detection," advises Bob Hinden, one of the creators of IPv6 and a Check Point fellow. "Most host operating systems -- Windows Vista, 7, Mac OS, Linux, IOS and Android -- all have IPv6 in them. Even though they may not think they have IPv6 turned on, there might be tunneled traffic coming from outside their enterprise. It's important that the enterprise know what's going on with IPv6 in their network."