IPv6 – Welcome to the first day of the rest of the Internet’s life

The Internet – once thought bottomless and boundless – has finally reached a breaking point…..of sorts. Much like the transition to 10-digit local calling, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses have finally reached an exhaustion point and the official rollout of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) has begun.

Keeping in mind, IPv6 is hardly new technology. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) saw the writing on the wall nearly 12 years ago and developed IPv6 at that time to mitigate the foreseeable IPv4 address exhaustion.

The issue is making news now in 2011 because earlier this month the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) announced it has allocated the last IPv4 address blocks. Several months still remain before Regional Registries consume all their remaining regional IPv4 address pools, but experts are suggesting that Asia, Europe, and North America (in that order) will exhaust their address allocations around July 2011.

What’s interesting is how people are handling this news and the now-very-real need to transition to IPv6. For example, a press release issued by IPv6 Canada, a chapter of the North American IPv6 Task Force and IPv6Forum, contained this quote:

  • “Attempting to predict this date has been an interesting challenge over the years, given the chaotic nature of global Internet growth. The challenge ahead for the larger community will be to move past denial, mourning, and grief, and get on with the task of IPv6 deployment,” states Tony Hain, IPv6 Forum Fellow, Technical Director, North American IPv6 Task Force.

Denial? Mourning? Grief?
We all know that nobody likes change, but isn’t this supposed to be exciting news?

A day that no one (outside of the IETF that is) thought would arrive – the day when the Internet essentially isn’t big enough anymore – is now upon us. And instead of being stopped in our tracks, we’ve developed a way to keep it growing. We shouldn’t be mourning this – we should be celebrating it.

Some people are. Consider GogoNet, a social network that’s been built around supporting professionals making the jump to v6. They’ve got people talking, tweeting, connecting and sharing their experiences with IPv6. And then there’s the upcoming IPv6 Day planned for June 8, 2011, where Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks will join other major organizations to offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour “test flight”. This one-day event is hoped to motivate organizations to prepare their services for IPv6 transition.

Here in Canada, CANARIE is leading the charge and successfully running IPv6 across the country – which you can monitor in real-time via its online iPv6 Traffic Map. Cybera’s provincial backbone network in Alberta – CyberaNet – has been fully IPv6 compatible since 2005, however no members have made the switch from IPv4 yet. Last week Cybera’s president, Robin Winsor, was set up with access to IPv6 so that he can gain first-hand experience with it.  As a personal challenge (and test of the uptake rate), he’s attempting to conduct as much Internet interactions as he can on IPv6, tracking any hurdles and rewards along the way. His first hiccup: he couldn’t announce his personal challenge on Facebook because even though the newsfeed page is available on ipv6, apparently his profile page isn’t. Stay tuned to Cybera’s blog for the results of Winsor’s IPv6 challenge.

Ultimately, IPv6 adoption across North America is expected to take some time. Cybera’s Technical Operations Manager, Jean-Francois Amiot, noted some reasons for this in an earlier Cybera blog post. Common barriers include dealing with legacy equipment (i.e. basic switches and routers), incompatible firewalls, and coordinating IPv6 education for internal IT teams. Issues such as these are expected to delay IPv6 deployment. Some observers are predicting North American mass adoption will take at least 10 years.

Looking ahead, the important thing will be to remember to do just that: keep looking ahead. Internet usage continues to grow – at last count, 1.9 billion people or nearly four times the population of North America were connected to the Internet. Connectedness has become key in work, play and education. The recent growth and prevalence of social media, social networking and online communities speaks to how much we’ve come to depend on and live our lives through the Internet.

It may take us 10 years to adopt IPv6, but how long do we have until we will need IPv7 or 8? Are you looking ahead? Please leave comments below if you’ve had any experience yet with IPv6.