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World IPv6 Launch Happening on June 6

Internet Protocol version 6 will be turned on permanently by a number of companies around the world on June 6 GMT (or 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time on June 5) as part of the World IPv6 Launch event.

The event, sponsored by the nonprofit Internet Society, is repeating what took place on World IPv6 Day on June 6, 2011. That day was just a 24-hour test and was widely described as a success for IPv6, both by Microsoft and others. However, on June 6, 2012, many companies will turn on IPv6 support in their networks and just leave it on -- for good, or at least until the next Internet Protocol becomes necessary.

The companies involved in this launch event include Internet service providers (AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and others), networking equipment manufacturers (Cisco and D-Link), Web services providers (Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo), among others.

The world is mostly using the IPv4, but those addresses are running out, and a coming world of more and more mobile devices may aggravate the shortage. IPv4 uses 32 bits for an address and supports around 4 billion IP addresses. In contrast, IPv6 uses 128 bits for an address is described as providing support for "340 trillion trillion trillion" IP addresses, according to Google's stats.

Currently, IPv6 use is fairly miniscule. Less than 0.7 percent of users access Google's pages use IPv6, and the most IPv6-enabled region so far is Europe, per Google's graphs.

Apparently no one is really using IPv5. The nomenclature for IPv5 was relegated to a different "Internet Stream Protocol" that wasn't widely deployed.

Since networks carry both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic, many home routers have network address translation (NAT) functionality to sort things out. Internet service providers, though, may typically just support IPv4, or they'll have dual-stack support via NAT. Even if service providers just supported IPv6 traffic, they'd still need to connect to IPv4 traffic, which is done through a NAT64 algorithm, according to a Microsoft blog.

IPv6 faces a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma in which it needs to be turned on first in order to get used. For IPv6 to get off the ground, a number of parties have to be involved: Internet service providers; makers of routers, home networking equipment and DNS servers; software companies and even IT professionals. A lot of pieces have to come together. Network security solution provider Arbor Networks has compiled a partial list as an example of the kind of cooperation required.

Many of the organizations participating in the Internet Society's IPv6 Launch event expect the transition to IPv6 to occur over time. IPv6 just needs to be turned on and equipment needs to be sold that uses IPv6 by default. Home users may even have the ability to turn on their home networking equipment or routers to use IPv6, but it's likely too complicated for most, according to a panel discussion hosted by Vint Cerf. Mark Townsley of Cisco Systems said during the discussion that all of the new lines of Cisco routers will have IPv6 enabled by default. Comcast is seeing five percent of its customers connecting via IPv6, according to the discussion.

Microsoft, for its part, has been preparing to support IPv6 in its operating systems ever since Windows XP Service Pack 1. IPv6 is a prominent part of Microsoft's DirectAccess remote client connection technology in Windows. It's also used in HomeGroup, which is a Windows 7 multimedia file sharing solution for home networks.

Windows 8 has the ability to test what sort of traffic is flowing in a network and will use IPv6 if that traffic is detected. This approach, which checks the actual state of the network, reflects Microsoft's approach to the RFC 3484 algorithm in a DNS server, according to Microsoft's blog. The test for the IPv6 network is conducted when a network is first connected, but it will repeat in another 30 days' time. Other Microsoft products have supported IPv6 since 2007. Microsoft lists IPv6 support in its products at this page.

Currently, most of Microsoft's online services do not support IPv6. However, Microsoft plans to turn on IPv6 permanently in its Bing search and Xbox services this month.

Windows Update uses both IPv6 and IPv4 because Microsoft relies on content delivery network partners to deliver that service. Those partners will support IPv6 for Windows 8 updates. Microsoft is currently working with its content delivery partners to support Windows 7 and Vista updates via IPv6, too.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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