Internet Society sets the date for stress-testing IPv6

Most users won't notice the difference, but a few will see failures

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority last week made the last allocations of IPv4 addresses.

With the adoption of the next generation of Internet protocols now becoming a reality, the Internet Society is planning a large-scale test of the Internet’s IPv6 infrastructure in June. A handful of companies with large Web presences have signed on to enable the new protocols June 8, World IPv6 Day, effectively inviting IPv6 connections to their websites. For most users, there will be no effect. Their browsers will successfully connect to the sites using IPv6, or their connections will fail over to IPv4 to connect.

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But for a small percentage, estimated at 0.05 percent, the connection will fail and the websites could be unavailable. That's the point of World IPv6 Day.

“Everybody has to do it on the same day,” said Martin Levy, director of IPv6 strategy at Internet carrier Hurricane Electric. Major sites trying out IPv6 at the same time with large volumes of traffic will help identify and locate problems. “The goal is to generate feedback for the .05 percent.”

This exercise is something like testing a new garden hose, one with lots of connections, by turning the water on for a few minutes and looking for leaks. Now is the time to do that on the Internet, before the volume of IPv6 traffic begins to increase and those leaks need to be repaired while under pressure.

To date, IPv6 Day participants include some of the largest traffic generators on the Internet, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Akamai and Limelight Networks. Most, if not all, of those companies already have sites that accept IPv6 traffic. But on June 8, they will enable the new protocols on dual-stack Internet connections and publish a resource record that maps the host names to IPv6 addresses.

From there, many browsers will attempt to connect with the sites using IPv6. If an IPv6 path is available, the connection will be successful. If not, the connection should quickly fail over to IPv4, just like always. But in some cases, the attempted IPv6 connection will hit dead ends at ill-configured gateways or other devices. The user would then need to wait for the IPv6 attempt to time out before making an IPv4 connection, or the site might remain unavailable.

The test is intended to be relatively painless. But that does not mean completely painless. If you have a broken connection, “your user experience will suck,” Levy said. And participating websites can expect to see a dip in successful connections that day. “Will Google’s revenues go down for those 24 hours? Yes.”

Why worry about finding those .05 percent of connections that won’t work? Because the standard for telecommunications service is five-9s — 99.999 percent — not 99.95 percent. “In the telecom world, we couldn’t stay in business delivering that level of quality,” Levy said.

And as the volume of IPv6 traffic grows, as it will in the coming years, the bottlenecks, breaks and blockages will only get worse if they aren't identified now.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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