For 24 hours on Wednesday, 400-plus Internet companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft teamed up for a large-scale production test of the next-gen Internet protocol, IPv6. Organized by the Internet Society to raise awareness of the need for a global transition to the new Internet protocol, the test enabled participants to gather data about possible glitches.
The Internet has been running on IPv4 for years, and the pool of available IP addresses has dried up. In February, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) allocated the last of the unused numbers into registries. IPv4 addresses are 32 bits, which allows about 4 billion under the protocol.
The new IPv6 addresses are 128 bits, allowing a total of 340 undecillion. “Undecillion” designates 11 sets of three zeros, plus one more set for the U.S. numbering system. This number is believed to be inexhaustible for the foreseeable future.
The mass IPv6 trial was evidently a success. Facebook reported that more than a million users accessed the site via the new protocol and the social network did not receive a higher-than-usual influx of help requests.
The company will continue to dual stack IPv4 and Ipv6, blogged Senior Network Engineer Donn Lee.
Expect Some Last-Minute Scrambling
The upgrade to IPv6 is a necessary step, but some problems may arise due to lack of backward compatibility with the original system. So far, however, so good.
“The world didn’t end — the computers didn’t crash. Doomsday has been delayed for at least another six months,” Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told TechNewsWorld.
“We haven’t totally run out of IP addresses yet — that will happen in a few months,” she noted.
“The conversion won’t happen until 2012,” Didio continued. It’s then that “problems will arise, because there is not backward compatibility with IPv6. Whether you’re a consumer or small business or large enterprise, about 10 percent will take care of this way in advance. Another 10 percent will be laggards and slackers who will wait until disaster strikes. The other 80 percent will put it off as long as they can — until it threatens their operations.”
Many companies will delay making the transition simply because they have more pressing projects in the works, suggested DiDio.
“New implementations will be IPv6. It’s a matter of getting the existing websites converted,” she said. “People will wait until the last minute not because they are lazy, but because they have other priorities.”
IPv6 will support better security, DiDio noted, but it won’t guarantee it.
“Nothing is foolproof. Security is the responsibility of those who use it,” she pointed out. “The companies that are in the best shape are those who get hacked all the time, because they become road warriors. Microsoft is a good example. They got religion about security.”
A Necessary Stockpile
IPv6 may be necessary and good, but it isn’t a cure-all.
“IPv6 solves the lack of IPv4 numbers, which, face it, we’ll have to deal with as everything is going to become so wired,” Steven Savage, technology project manager and Geek 2.0 blogger, told TechNewsWorld. “That’s the inevitable part. There’s more support for security. There’s some other useful features.”
However, it won’t stifle the ambitions of the army of hackers plaguing cyberspace. Instead, the new protocol may actually challenge those who want to prove no wall is too high to overcome.
“I don’t see it making much of a difference; it’s something new to hack instead,” said Savage.
“Change is necessary, but there are inevitable growing pains,” he observed.
Facebook and Google have already reported success in their World IPv6 Day tests, but there’s still a long way to go before the protocol can be considered stable.
“I can’t say yet whether this will be more reliable,” said Savage. “It solves the problems of IPv4 and adds some new features, but we’re also going to have to adapt to a new protocol, and that’ll mean inevitable errors, issues and so on.”