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What Did IPv6 Day Teach Us?

Despite a quiet test, experts say most enterprise networks are not yet ready to handle IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time.

So how was it for you? Last Wednesday's IPv6 Day passed without incident for the vast majority of enterprise users, and a week later the Internet seems unchanged. That should be the mark of a successful test, but some network operators suspect that upgrading to IPv6 for real won't go so smoothly.

"It was kind of a transient event," Amar Khan, VP of IP Services at infrastructure provider Internap, said in an interview. Internap accounts for a major portion of the IPv6 Internet, with more than 1 in 100 of total IPv6 routes passing through its network. These showed a huge spike in traffic, with the number of IPv6 packets traversing its network jumping more than 25-fold on IPv6 day. But the rise was only temporary, and perhaps only possible because IPv6 was starting from such a low base. "Even on that day, the percentage of Internet traffic that was IPv6 was immaterial," he said. "And once the day was over, we saw it revert back to normal levels."

Khan believes that bigger problems will occur when IPv6 goes mainstream, as many networks aren't set up to deal with IPv4 and IPv6 coexisting--a necessity, as the uptake of IPv6 will likely be slow and gradual. Because IPv6 needs to be enabled end-to-end, there is little benefit in making the switch alone, something that is delaying adoption. "It's a prisoner's dilemma kind of thing," said Khan. ""It might be five years before we see IPv6 become even 5% to 10% of Internet traffic."

Even 5% would be a massive increase over the level now. According to a report from deep packet inspection vendor Procera, IPv6 currently accounts for only 0.2% of total Internet traffic. Compiled from data gathered by Procera's network operator customers on IPv6 day, the report also found that the main application of IPv6 is peer-to-peer file sharing, with BitTorrent accounting for more than half the total IPv6 traffic on the Internet. This is mostly because some peer-to-peer applications automatically use Teredo, a popular protocol for tunneling IPv6 over IPv4 so that they can connect to IPv6 resources even without support Internet-wide.

Though traffic has returned to normal, the test run did have some long-term benefits. It persuaded hardware and software vendors to add support for IPv6, something that otherwise might sit on the back burner. For example, Google describes in a blog post that it improved Chrome's abilities to deal with problems in IPv6 networks, while networking vendors Cisco and Brocade have also been touting their support for the protocol. However, this isn't all due to IPv6 day. The White House has mandated that all U.S. government websites and services need to offer IPv6 connectivity by September of next year, meaning that vendors that want to sell to the government have little choice.

The other big driver is simply that the IPv4 address space has run out, with the final blocks being allocated earlier this year. "Content and application vendors will get to a point where they can't scale any longer with IPv4, even using NAT," said Khan, "but that's still a couple of years away." In addition to more addresses, IPv6 includes native support in the critical areas of security and mobility, though these aren't big reasons to adopt it as both have been retrofitted to IPv4.

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