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Lack of IPv6 traffic stats makes judging progress difficult

Data spotty on how much IPv6 traffic is flowing across ISP, enterprise nets

By , Network World
May 24, 2011 12:03 AM ET

Network World - The Internet is poised to undergo the biggest upgrade in its 40-year history: from the current version of the Internet Protocol known as IPv4 to a new version dubbed IPv6, which offers an expanded addressing scheme for supporting new users and devices.

However, it will be difficult for Internet policymakers, engineers and the user community at large to tell how the upgrade to IPv6 is progressing because no one has accurate or comprehensive statistics about how much Internet traffic is IPv6 vs. IPv4.

RELATED: What if IPv6 simply fails to catch on?

The issue of IPv6 traffic measurement is timely given that the Internet engineering community is preparing for its biggest trial of IPv6: World IPv6 Day on June 8. So far, 225 website operators -- including Google, Yahoo and Facebook -- have agreed to participate in the event by serving up their content via IPv6 for 24 hours.

Without accurate IPv6 traffic statistics, neither the sponsors nor the participants of World IPv6 Day will be able to tell for sure how much IPv6 traffic is sent over the Internet on June 8 or how much difference the event has on IPv6 traffic volumes afterward.

"Being able to measure IPv4 vs. IPv6 is very important," says John Brzozowski, distinguished engineer and chief architect for IPv6 at Comcast, which has deployed an emerging tool called NetFlow 9 in parts of its network to measure IPv4 and IPv6 traffic volumes. "We as a community need to be able to measure our progress and success. IPv4 vs. IPv6 traffic is one of many important metrics."

IPv6 traffic data "is useful in understanding the trend of adoption, but I don't think it's critical for a carrier to understand that they have to properly support their customers," says Dave Siegel, vice president of IP Services Product Management at Global Crossing. Siegel adds that "it's most important to have tools available to troubleshoot IPv6 issues."

IPv6 traffic volumes are likely to remain a hot topic as the pressure intensifies for network operators to deploy IPv6, a 13-year-old standard whose primary advantage over IPv4 is an expanded addressing scheme. 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, and in April the Asia Pacific region ran out of all but a few IPv4 addresses being held in reserve for startups. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which doles out IP addresses to network operators in North America, says it will deplete its supply of IPv4 addresses this fall.

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 website operators have to upgrade their network equipment and software to support IPv6 traffic. So far, most have been unwilling to do so because IPv6 traffic has been so scarce.

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