Two leading network vendors -- Cisco and Verizon Business -- have enlisted in an upcoming trial-by-fire of IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol called IPv4.
Dubbed World IPv6 Day, the 24-hour trial is being sponsored by the Internet Society and is scheduled for June 8. Google, Facebook and Yahoo have already agreed to participate, as have leading content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight Networks.
Network vendors are jumping on the World IPv6 Day bandwagon because they are anxious to show their customers -- particularly the U.S. military -- that they not only "talk the talk" but are willing to "walk the walk" when it comes to deploying their own IPv6 products.
Cisco said in a blog post published on Friday that it was participating in World IPv6 Day because it would be an "unprecedented" test of IPv6 in terms of its scale.
"While we have helped a number of customers deploy IPv6 on networks large and small, stitching this together ubiquitously and seamlessly among not just the networks themselves but the software and applications running on top has been challenging," wrote Mark Townsley, a distinguished engineer with Cisco Development Organization.
Participants in World IPv6Day agree to enable their main public-facing Web sites with both IPv6 and IPv4 running side-by-side in what's called dual-stack mode. Most Web sites that offer IPv6 support today -- such as Facebook and YouTube -- have done so on dedicated IPv6-only Web sites.
"On World IPv6 Day, we will advertise both an IPv4 and an IPv6 address in the DNS for www.cisco.com for 24 hours," Townsley wrote, adding that this may cause delays or timeouts for end users who have misconfigured network gear or other connectivity problems. "One of the very important goals of this experiment is to help the industry measure, work through and put to rest a number of these types of issues."
Verizon said it was participating in World IPv6 Day because the event will help educate the Internet community about IPv6.
"As the Internet is an ecosystem -- not one single company, network, Web site or customer -- the day will help the Internet community understand the IPv6 migration needs on a broader scale than if companies simply do focused trials or a single deployment for a customer,'' a Verizon spokeswoman said.
IPv6 is a necessary upgrade because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the 30-year-old IPv4 standard.
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Less than 5% of IPv4 addresses are left unallocated to the regional Internet registries, which in turn dole them out to network operators. Experts say the free pool of IPv4 addresses will be depleted in February.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices -- 2 to the 128th power.
The World IPv6 Day trial is designed to help participants gauge the extent of a problem that the network industry refers to as IPv6 brokenness. Some Internet users will experience slowdowns or have trouble connecting to IPv6-enabled Web sites because they have misconfigured or misbehaving network equipment, primarily in their home networks. Corporate users also could experience IPv6 brokenness because of faulty firewall settings.
Industry estimates that 0.05% of Internet users will suffer from IPv6 brokenness mean that as many as 1 million Internet users could be unable to access the Web sites participating in World IPv6 Day during the 24-hour trial.
"In the coming months, Cisco will be working with our development teams, Cisco Services teams, and customers to ensure that this global experiment meets its objectives with the least amount of disruption possible to Internet users worldwide," Townsley wrote in his blog post.
Other ISPs that said they are considering participating in World IPv6 Day include Qwest and Global Crossing, while NTT America and Hurricane Electric said they already offer dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 support on their corporate Web sites.
"Every day is World IPv6 Day at Hurricane Electric,'' says Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric's director of IPv6 strategy. "Our Web site has been dual-stack for more than three years as has our customer portal for administration. Everything is IPv6: our name servers, our informational sites and our internal networks. We've already taken the hit" from IPv6 brokenness.