IPv6 traffic shoots up on World Launch Day; dot-gov domains join in

There were significant increases in IPv6-enabled resources and traffic on the Internet on June 6, the day set by the Internet Society to jump-start adoption of the new Internet Protocols by Internet content providers, carriers and equipment manufacturers.

More than 2,600 websites participated in World IPv6 Launch Day, with 138 U.S. government domains participating with no reported problems, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Executive branch agencies are required to enable IPv6 for public-facing DNS, Web and e-mail services by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2012, and on internal networks two years later. Those agencies participating in the launch day already have met the 2012 requirements.

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“Everything went as planned,” said Alain Fiocco, Cisco’s senior IPv6 program director, said of the launch. “It was a huge success for the industry.”

Fiocco gave a briefing on the initial hours of launch day (which began at midnight June 6 Universal Time, or 8 p.m. June 5 U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, and 5 p.m. June 5 Pacific Daylight Time) via video link from San Jose, Calif., to the Digital Government Institute’s IPv6 conference held in Washington.

According to statistics from the Internet Society IPv6 traffic jumped from an average of 2.1 gigabits of data each second June 5 to a peak of 3.5 gigabits June 6. After a lull in the overnight hours, IPv6 volume remained above 3 gigabits/sec. from 8 a.m. EDT on June 6.

Other measures of traffic also went up. The percentage of traffic reaching Google’s site via IPv6 jumped from around 0.6 percent on June 5 to about 0.75 percent, a small percentage but one representing a large number of users.

Version 6 of the Internet Protocols was developed to replace IPv4, the version now in wide use, because available IPv4 Internet addresses are rapidly being used up. Unassigned IPv4 addresses are expected to disappear over the next two years, and future growth in Internet use will have to occur with IPv6, which has an exponentially larger number of addresses available.

But the two protocols are not interoperable, and because IPv4 is widely used and cannot be immediately abandoned, adopting IPv6 on a network effectively means operating and maintaining two networks.

To date, adoption of IPv6 has been slow, and IPv6 World Launch Day was conceived as a way to overcome what Fiocco called a classic Mexican standoff: Content providers were reluctant to adopt IPv6 because there were no users for it, users were not interested in it because there was no content available, and carriers were not interested because there was no demand from content providers or customers. “No one had any incentive to be the first one to move,” he said.

On May 20, a scan of the top 500 websites in 134 countries showed that just 3.1 percent of Web pages were available via IPv6, Fiocco said. On June 6 a scan of the same sites showed 27.2 percent of pages available with IPv6. “The Mexican standoff is over, because content is available,” he said.

IPv6 traffic is expected to grow steadily. Internet service providers and carriers participating in the launch had to enable 1 percent of their subscribers with IPv6 by June 6, and agree to provision all new subscribers with IPv6 by default. Participating carriers are signing on new subscribers at a rate of 260,000 households per month.

The Veterans Affairs Department, a leader in IPv6 adoption among the government agencies, enabled the new protocols on its public-facing services last year. So far, the volume of IPv6 traffic has been small, said Steve Pirzchalski, the department’s IPv6 transition manager, but he said he expects that to change.

“I believe the tipping point for us will be 1 percent,” which he expects to happen over the next three months.

The VA has aggressively adopted the new protocols because of the need to provision increasingly online services to a growing population of veterans, particularly in rural areas, who will be using IPv6 predominately for their Internet connections. “We believe it’s an 18- to 24-month time frame” to prepare for that, Pirzchalski said.

VA not only has enabled IPv6 but it is going a step further and making plans for turning off IPv4 on its network in 2015.

“We put a line in the sand,” with a directive requiring a waiver to maintain IPv4 after December 2014, Pirzchalski said. Small enclaves of legacy devices or systems that cannot be upgraded are expected to remain on the old protocols, but those will be the exception rather than the rule, he said. “You can’t continue to run two networks indefinitely,” because that increases costs and risks.

Worldwide, large-scale adoption of IPv6 networking is only now getting under way. In the United States, about 0.93 percent of users have IPv6 addresses, which Fiocco estimated to be about 1.7 million subscribers. In Japan the number is 1.56 percent, and in France it is 4.8 percent. But as larger blocks of IPv6 addresses are assigned and more online content becomes available via native IPv6, use of the new protocols is expected to increase sharply.

Turning on IPv6 for launch day worked because of years of planning and testing with the new protocols, Fiocco said. “This is not a new technology,” he said. “It was defined 20 years ago and brought to market 10 years ago.”


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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