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Lessons Learned From World IPv6 Day

Wednesday's World IPv6 Day came and went with only a handful of reported problems. Observers say this is a good sign that the Internet is capable of handling the new protocols.

"The infrastructure of the Internet has matured," said Scott Iekel-Johnson, product manager at Arbor Networks, which monitored IPv6 traffic during the June 8 test. "This is enough to tell us that we can handle it. What we need to do now is migrate users."

More than 30 government Web sites participated in what the Internet Society billed as a 24-hour flight test of the next generation of Internet Protocols, two of them in the .mil Top Level Domain and the 32 in .gov. None of the sites have reported problems and they remained accessible throughout the day from around the country.

More than 400 entities, including some of the Web's major presences such as Google and Facebook, participated in World IPv6 Day by publishing IPv6 addresses in Domain Name System records from midnight to midnight GMT (which was 8 p.m. June 7 to 8 p.m. June 8 in the Eastern U.S. time zone, and 5 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Pacific time zone).

The volume of traffic to major online portals during the test was unchanged from typical traffic levels, indicating that users were having little if any trouble connecting.

Arbor networks saw an increase in IPv6 traffic of from 60 percent to more than double during the day, which Iekel-Johnson called a "significant accomplishment." But he added that, "if you double a small number, it's still a small number."

IPv6 traffic as a percentage of total Internet traffic remained small during the day. The percentage increased from a normal average of about .015 percent to about .025 percent, spiking at one point to .04 percent.

One significant difference in IPv6 traffic during the day was how it was being used, Iekel-Johnson said. IPv6 typically is found in fringe areas of the Internet, used for things such as peer-to-peer applications. On June 8, http was the dominant application. "For the first time, IPv6 looked like normal Internet traffic," he said.

The small numbers represent the scarcity of IPv6 connectivity for Internet users. Although most modern operating systems and Web browsers support the new protocols, and many heavy hitters on the Web enabled it on their sites, most commercial Internet service providers do not provide IPv6 connectivity.

"You're not going to be able to have IPv6 service even if you want it," Iekel-Johnson said.

Establishing IPv6 connectivity, either with tunneling service encapsulating IPv6 inside IPv4 packets or through Teredo transition, is not terribly difficult, but most users do not have the expertise or inclination to do it, he said. And that is keeping the volume of IPv6 traffic low.

Iekel-Johnson said market forces drive availability of IPv6 access, and that to date there has been little demand for the service from consumers. "At the end of the day, service providers are businesses," he said.

The Internet Protocols are the set of rules and specifications enabling communication and interoperability among components on the Internet and other IP networks. Version 4 of the protocols is what is commonly in use today. Included in the protocols is an addressing scheme. With the limited number of IPv4 addresses now nearing depletion, future growth on the Internet will require a transition to IPv6, which has a much larger address space.

The government has made the transition to IPv6 a priority, requiring agencies to enable the protocols on public-facing Web sites by the end of 2012 and on internal network elements by 2014.

"We know that IPv6 deployment will help enable the technologies that allow us pursue broader policy goals in areas such as healthcare, education and energy," said a June 8 post on the White House blog from federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, CIO Vivek Kundra and Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickland.

Although most networking hardware and software now supports IPv6, there is a dearth of experience in implementing, configuring and managing it on a large scale. The Internet Society organized World IPv6 Day to test current capability and gain insight into challenges.

Government participants in the test ranged from large, department-wide enterprises such as the Veterans Affairs Department (www.va.gov) to smaller subject-specific sites such as the National Library of Medicine's Daily Med site (dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/). Tests by 1105 Media staffers located around the country found that the sites remained accessible throughout the day and that most sites were loading as fast, if not faster than usual. The only site for which consistent delays were reported was the Energy Department's Idaho National Lab (www.inl.gov), which routinely took from seven to 30 seconds to load.

Richard Hyatt, CTO of BlueCat Networks, which provides IP address management tools and services, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by World IPv6 Day results, but not greatly so.

"After having the protocols around for 13 years, you'd hope that people would be able to connect things with them," he said. "I don't think anybody thought the Internet was going to break down."

The larger challenge in implementing IPv6 will be inside the enterprise, he said.

"I think the big impact is not going to be with people getting out to Google or YouTube, it's going to be how do you get that connectivity inside the organization? I don't think a lot of people are ready for that."

Hyatt praised the World IPv6 Day test, but said that the traffic it generated represents only the tip of iceberg that networks will have to prepare for. "We probably should have done this earlier," he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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