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Yahoo, Facebook and Google to IETF: Where are the IPv6 users?

Meeting of Internet standards body indicates shift in IPv6 debate from content to carriers

By , Network World
July 27, 2011 02:56 PM ET

Network World - QUEBEC CITY -- Where are the users? That's what popular websites including Yahoo, Google and Facebook are asking the Internet engineering community when they are questioned about their long-range plans to deploy IPv6.

These popular websites -- and tens of thousands of others -- participated in a successful, 24-hour trial of IPv6 on June 8 dubbed World IPv6 Day. Sponsored by the Internet Society, World IPv6 Day was a large-scale experiment designed to test the readiness of IPv6 to replace IPv4, which has been the Internet's main communications protocol since its inception 40 years ago.

The Internet's largest players are providing detailed analysis about their experiences on World IPv6 Day and they are discussing next steps for IPv6 deployment at a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) being held here this week.

BACKGROUND: World IPv6 Day: Tech industry's most-watched event since Y2K

What's evident at the IETF meeting is a shift in focus on the IPv6 debate from content to carriers. The Internet engineering community appears to be ratcheting up the pressure on ISPs, particularly residential broadband providers, to enable IPv6 to home users as the next step to IPv6 deployment.

"The focus is absolutely on the access networks," said IETF Chairman Russ Housley. "What World IPv6 Day showed is individuals who wanted to participate from home could not get IPv6 support from their ISPs. They had to set up their own [IPv6-over-IPv4] tunnels, and the average user doesn't have the knowledge to do that."

Yahoo said it deployed dual-stack IPv6 and IPv4 proxy servers at seven locations worldwide and created a special infrastructure to improve the performance of the 6to4 tunneling protocol for World IPv6 Day. Yahoo also modified its geolocation and ad-targeting code to be IPv6 aware, and it over-provisioned its IPv6 servers as an extra precaution.

On World IPv6 Day, Yahoo served IPv6 content to more than 2.2 million users, representing a peak of 0.229% of the overall traffic on 30 different Yahoo-affiliated sites. Yahoo hailed World IPv6 Day as a success but turned off IPv6 support after the event.

"IPv6 is not a wide deployment," said Igor Gashinsky, a principal architect with Yahoo. "That was a lot of work for 0.229%. We need more IPv6 access. Can we break single digits, please, and then we can talk about leaving it on?"

Similarly, Facebook served content to more than 1 million IPv6 users on World IPv6 Day. But this represented only a small fraction -- 0.2% -- of Facebook users that are IPv6 capable. Of those Facebook users, 0.16% had native IPv6 access and the other 0.04% used 6to4 tunneling.

"There are some people who are very, very passionate about IPv6 ... but it's difficult for most people to understand," said Donn Lee, a member of Facebook's network engineering team. "It's very much a concept of, 'I have restored my Internet connection.' That's what the user cares about. The user doesn't care about if it's IPv6 or IPv4."

The IETF created IPv6 a decade ago because the Internet is running out of addresses using IPv4. 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.

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