If you ever needed an excuse to use one of your personal holidays for a high-tech celebration, stand by, because the moment that you have been waiting for is almost here. IPv6 Day, slated for June 8, 2011, and sponsored by the Internet Society (ISOC, see http://isoc.org/wp/worldipv6day/), is a 24-hour testing event that promises to bring scores of carriers and vendors together to test their IPv6 implementations, in general, and access to their Internet websites, in particular. The stated goal of the experiment is to encourage a number of organizations – including hardware vendors, ISPs, operating system developers and content providers – to develop IPv6 connectivity for their customers, and then demonstrate the effectiveness of that connectivity to the world.
Given that the existing supply of IPv4 addresses is now officially exhausted the ISOC has laid out some specific actions that will be necessary for a successful transition to IPv6 to occur. These include hardware and software vendors assuring that their products that are updated to support the new protocol, ISPs making IPv6 connectivity available to their users, Web and content providers offering their services over IPv6 and backbone providers establishing IPv6-based peering with each other. And this worldwide testing event is designed to demonstrate that the transition to IPv6 is well underway.
The ISOC is focusing this event on network operators and website owners, making the assumption that their hardware and software systems have already been upgraded to support IPv6 and thus making live tests with end users the next big step. ISOC suggests that network operators post a version of an IPv6 test page on their customer-facing servers and then encourage their customers to test this connection (using IPv6) prior to June 8. Website owners need to make an IPv6-compatible Domain Name Server (DNS) record available, thus pointing IPv6-capable users in their site’s direction. Facebook http://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/world-ipv6-day-solving-the-ip-address-chicken-and-egg-challenge/484445583919), Google (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/world-ipv6-day-firing-up-engines-on-new.html), and Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) are among the content providers that plan to participate.
IPv6-capable users that wish to verify their IPv6 connectivity before June 8 can go to http://test-ipv6.com/. Internet users that only have IPv4 access will not be affected by the worldwide experiment, as IPv4 access will not change.
One example of a planned IPv6 Day network operator participant is Sprint, a carrier that claims to have been involved with IPv6 since 1997 and which also participated in the various Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF, see www.ietf.org) working groups that were formulating technical standards for the new protocol.
Sprint’s IPv6 implementation, which is based on the IETF-developed recommendations, uses two different types of network architectures. The first, which Sprint has deployed since 1997 to deliver IPv6 traffic, is known as a tunneling approach. With this method, IPv6 packets that are sent to the Sprint network are encapsulated (or enveloped) inside an IPv4 packet at the ingress router, and then transmitted through the existing IPv4 routing infrastructure. At the egress router, the IPv6 packet is un-encapsulated (i.e. the IPv4 envelope is removed), yielding the original IPv6 packet, which can then be delivered to the IPv6-capable destination device. This encapsulation/de-capsulation process adds addressing and other packet overhead, thus adding the potential for processing and transmission delays as well.
Sprint’s long-term plan uses a different technique, known as the dual-stack approach, in which the devices (either host computers or network router) run parallel IPv4 and IPv6 implementations. This enables both IPv4- and IPv6-addressed packets to be carried over the same port connection, and forwarded on an end-to-end basis through Sprint’s network. Since all of the routers that are inside Sprint’s network can handle both IPv4 and IPv6 packets, either of these data streams can flow through the network without the added overhead associated with the encapsulation/de-capsulation process. Network access is thus transparent to the customer, as that network contains the capabilities to communicate in either protocol.
Sprint has also developed an interesting customer application, called the Looking Glass, which allows customers to check IPv4 or IPv6 connectivity through the Sprint network, using a number of standard IP-based utilities, including Ping and Traceroute. Check out https://www.sprint.net/lg/lg_start.php for more information, and see https://www.sprint.net/index.php?p=ipv6 for more details on Sprint’s overall support of IPv6.
Numerous other technology companies have also indicated their plans to join in, including notables Cisco Systems (http://www.cisco.com/web/solutions/netsys/ipv6/index.html ), Comcast (http://www.comcast6.net/ ), F5 Networks (www.f5.com), Juniper Networks (http://forums.juniper.net/t5/Architecting-the-Network/The-Sky-Is-Not-Falling-and-IPv6-Will-Take-To-The-Air/ba-p/73356 ), Level 3 Communication, (http://www.level3.com/Resource-Library/Brochure/IPv6.aspx ), Microsoft Bing (http://www.bing.com/community/site_blogs/b/search/archive/2011/02/03/world-ipv6-day_3a00_-bing-taking-decisions-to-the-next-generation-of-the-internet.aspx ), and Verisign (www.verisigninc.com).
So start a trend – take this first IPv6 Day as a personal holiday – and if the event is repeated next year, perhaps the boss will give everyone the day off!
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation®, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including the Internet Technologies Handbook, published