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DETAILS: Asia out of IPv4 addresses
But as necessary as IPv6 seems, there is a major stumbling block to its deployment: It's not backward compatible with IPv4. That means network and website operators have to upgrade their network equipment and software to support IPv6 traffic, and so far most have been unwilling to do so.
Despite all of the network industry momentum around World IPv6 Day, the protocol is not taking off on the Internet anywhere near as fast as proponents had hoped. A recent survey of Internet traffic compiled by Arbor Networks found that IPv6 represented less than 0.2% of all Internet traffic. Indeed, Arbor said IPv6 traffic -- both tunneled and native -- had declined 12% in the last six months, even as momentum for World IPv6 Day was building. Arbor gathered this data by surveying six carriers in North America and Europe.
Craig Labovitz, chief scientist of Arbor Networks, says the decline in IPv6 traffic is the result of users replacing inefficient IPv6-over-IPv4 tunnels with native IPv6 traffic, which he says is a sign of IPv6 becoming more production ready.
Although he concedes that the IPv6 migration effort has been unsuccessful to date, Labovitz said he is hoping that World IPv6 Day will change the protocol's momentum.
"My biggest hope for IPv6 Day is that the large content providers will gain enough confidence to leave IPv6 ... on by default,'' he says. "If this happens, we will have broken through the Catch-22 of subscribers/enterprises waiting for content, and content waiting for subscribers/enterprises to deploy IPv6."
If IPv6 adoption continues to lag, Labovitz warns that events may overtake the Internet engineering community.
"Instead of planned and well thought-out evolutionary Internet architecture, we end up with market forces creating a swamp of workarounds, hacks and other problems that add expense, stifle innovation and limit the potential of this fantastic global network," Labovitz predicts.
In contrast to the Arbor Networks data, NTT America reports increasing demand for the new protocol from its telecom, IT, hosting, government and education customers. NTT says 30% of its customer ports and 70% of its peering ports are now IPv6 enabled.
"We foresee a gradual, organic growth with IPv6 deployment among our customer base, especially as more and more become aware of the importance to transition," Kim says. "Companies that don't take action toward transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 risk increased costs and limited functionality online for their users. Ultimately, however, IPv6 will result in faster, more secure, more reliable and cheaper Internet service."
Some experts say that IPv6 is not a sure thing, despite the efforts by the IETF, the Internet Society and other proponents to portray it as such.
Professor Milton Mueller, of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University and a founder of the Internet Governance Project, points out that network operators can't switch to IPv6 today without cutting themselves off from the IPv4-based Internet. Instead, they have to run both IPv6 and IPv4 side-by-side in a dual-stack configuration or use NAT devices to bridge between the protocols. The awkwardness of this upgrade is why Mueller is not too optimistic about IPv6 deployment.