Google, Facebook and Yahoo don’t usually collaborate, but on June 8th, 2011 the global web leaders came together—along with several top Internet service providers (ISPs)—to celebrate “World Ipv6 Day”. According to the Internet Society, these and other corporations offered a 24-hour test run of Internet Protocol Version Six (Ipv6), hoping to showcase not only the standard’s effectiveness but viability as an answer to IPv4’s biggest problem: Address exhaustion.
It’s been two years since the big event—where does IPv6 adoption stand in 2013?
A Trip Down Memory Lane
The first question most businesses ask about IPv6 revolves around necessity. The protocol isn’t designed to work with IPv4 but rather coexist alongside its aging counterpart until IPv4 is completely phased out. As a result, the costs of deploying this new protocol can seem unnecessary since, according to Mashable, the bulk of Internet traffic still uses IPv4.
To understand the need for a new version, a small history lesson is in order. It starts with the birth of modern Internet technology, which—as Federal Computer Week discusses—was the 1970s brainchild of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Their ARPAnet became NSFnet, used by the National Science Foundation, which in turn evolved into today’s familiar Internet. To support communication over this network, researchers developed both Internet Protocol (IPs) and Transmission Control Protocols (TCPs); when Internet access became a public commodity, these protocols had already been through several iterations and IPv4 became the de facto standard—but there was a problem.
IPv4 uses 32-bit IP addresses, which yields 4.3 billion unique combinations; according to Internet News, these addresses were officially depleted in 2011. The concept of IPv6, also known as IP Next Generation or IPng, was put forth in a 1998 Internet Society paper and solved the problem of address exhaustion by using 128-bit addresses, giving a total of 340 trillion trillion unique identifiers.
Wondering why we skipped IPv5? Also known as Internet Stream (ST) Protocol, it was used in the 1990s by tech giants like IBM and Apple, but lost out to an “improved” version of IPv4.
On the Rise?
According to statistics from Google, only 1.9 percent of its users accessed the website using IPv6 as of October 23, 2013. What’s more, adoption of the technology in the United States stands at only four percent—Romania leads the world with just over 7 percent IPv6 adoption. In some parts of the world, IPv6 use is limited due to high latency or poor reliability when connecting, while in other countries, ISPs simply aren’t willing to make the switch. But it’s not all bad news, despite what may seem like low numbers.
According to a recent Network Computing article, 17 percent of the Internet at large is advertising Ipv6 prefixes to the global routing table; adoption may be slow, but is beginning to pick up speed. One technology niche with a steeper uptake curve is mobile; a Network World article recently pointed out that the rise of mobile devices has made IPv6 a must-have, instead of a nice-to-have.
While most businesses haven’t yet adopted IPv6, they need to if they want to stay competitive. A recent UK study reported by The Register argues that “Without IPv4 address space, the ability to grow the Internet’s technologies and services – both the legacy and traditional ones and the new and innovative ones – will be severely hampered.” It goes on to warn that UK businesses are “avoiding the cost of deploying IPv6 regardless of the circumstance.”
But how can companies start the adoption process? According to the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the first step is talking with ISPs to determine how they will support the new protocol. Many now offer transition services which allow users to connect through either IPv4 or IPv6, often via a process known as “tunneling,” where IPv6 requests are covered in an IPv4 layer and then sent through IPv4 Internet to their destination. Businesses also need to audit all devices and applications to ensure they’re IPv6-compatible, and talk to vendors about their timeline for IPv6 support.
Ultimately, the IPv6 transition comes down to this: End-user experience. Consumers want speedy and reliable Internet access, regardless of what protocol is required and that’s why web hosts like Lunarpages have made the commitment to ensure IPv6 compatibility for its customers.
Although IPv6 is off to a slow adoptive start, the total depletion of IPv4 addresses and increasing support for “dual-stack” protocol networks puts it on a steady climb—companies need to get in on the ground floor, rather than clawing for space at the top.