Network and Web site operators are coming under increasing pressure to support IPv6 -- the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol -- as more market indicators point to the rapid depletion of addresses for IPv4.
The Number Resource Organization (NRO) announced on Tuesday that only 8% of IPv4 addresses remain unallocated. The NRO consists of the five Regional Internet Registries, which dole out blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 address space to carriers.
The NRO's latest figures are significant because the Internet infrastructure must be upgraded to support both IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices.
Despite the efforts of these IPv6 pioneers, the NRO says the Internet industry is not prepared for IPv4 address space to run out.
To demonstrate that IPv6 deployment is happening too slowly, the NRO quoted statistics from an April Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report that said only 5.5% of the world's addressable IP networks can handle traffic over IPv6.
The OECD report also says fewer than 0.1% of U.S.users have adopted IPv6. But this miniscule amount is enough to put the United States in fourth place in terms of the percentage of IPv6-capable users. The leaders are: France, with 1% of users having adopted IPv6; China with 0.4%; and Sweden with 0.1%.
IPv6-enabled Web content also lags. The OECD report also said that just 1.45% of the world's 1,000 most visited Web sites have IPv6 support.
In response to these statistics, the NRO is urging governments around the world to make IPv6 readiness a top priority.
"National governments play a hugely important role in helping to accelerate IPv6 adoption worldwide," said Axel Pawlik, chair of the Number Resource Organization, in a statement. "They have to lead the way by making their own content and services available over IPv6 and encouraging IPv6 deployment efforts amongst private sector organizations."
Feds ready IPv6 portal
An early proponent of IPv6, the U.S. federal government appears to be out in front of the NRO recommendations.
The General Services Administration is preparing the federal government's main Web site -- the www.usa.gov portal -- to support IPv6 in production mode. But the agency hasn't released a target date for when IPv6 services will be available on the site.
"The usa.gov infrastructure provided by the hosting vendor is fully capable of supporting IPv6. Additionally, all major components and operating systems used by usa.gov are IPv6 capable. [There] is no specific date to fully transition to IPv6 at this point in time, but we plan on keeping in time with the industry [as] it progresses in this transition," a GSA spokesman said in response to a recent query.
Meanwhile, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is being changed as of July 1 to require U.S. agencies to buy IT hardware and software that has been tested for IPv6 readiness by a third-party lab approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
"More suppliers are putting IPv6 capabilities into their products because of the FAR change," says John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which provides IP address space to U.S. carriers and enterprises.
Curran says router manufacturers already support IPv6 because of the U.S. government's earlier requirement that all of its backbone networks be capable of passing IPv6 packets by June 2008. Now, the U.S. government is requiring built-in IPv6 support in all of the IT systems that it purchases.
"My advice…to companies providing hardware or software is that the demand curve for IPv6 is going from zero to most of your customers, and it will happen over a short number of months next year," Curran says. "If you don't have products ready, your customers will go elsewhere."
Curran says that all of the statistics he is tracking indicate that government agencies, businesses and other organizations need to move quickly to add IPv6 support to their public-facing Web sites and services.
"They will be at a disadvantage if their public servers are not IPv4 and IPv6 connected," Curran says. "The disadvantage is that they won't see information from IPv6-connected broadband customers…They may have performance problems with online audio and online video streaming because it will be harder and harder to control the quality."
Curran says CIOs are waiting to adopt IPv6 because their trading partners and customers aren't asking for IPv6 connectivity yet. But he says it will be less expensive for them to adopt IPv6 sooner rather than later.
"It's much easier to put IPv6 in your ongoing development cycle and to do it as part of your normal upgrade cycle," Curran says. "Otherwise, you may find yourself a year and a half from now where you've got IPv6-enabled customers. You'll want to do [IPv6] at the same time that millions of other businesses in the U.S. are trying do the exact same work. You'll be under the gun, and you'll have to pay a premium for the know-how and expertise."
Curran says IPv6 transition issues will dominate the agenda at an ARIN meeting being held next week in Toronto.
NTT expands IPv6 services in Asia
As another sign of the momentum of IPv6, NTT Communications Corp said on Tuesday that it is planning a worldwide rollout of a VPN service that supports both IPv4 and IPv6. The service will be available in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore starting on April 15.
NTT says its dual-stack VPN service is based on MPLS, which will make it easier for enterprises to retain their existing IPv4 network architectures as they gradually transition to IPv6.