The Rocky Mountain IPv6 Summit kicked off in Denver yesterday with a representative from the Internet Society (ISOC) giving some compelling reasons why everyone who loves the Internet (and isn’t that everyone?) should be concerned about the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

Richard Jimmerson, director/Deployment & Operationalization Hub with ISOC, said that at the most basic level, Web site owners expect that their sites can be viewed by everyone on the Internet. But that assumption won’t necessarily hold true as the last remaining IPv4 addresses are depleted and new IPv6 addresses are assigned. In order to ensure universal accessibility, providers will need to use dual stack IPv4/IPv6. (For more see IPv4 Addresses Dwindle, But Cable Prepares and for all IPv6 stories on CT, click here).

The depletion of IPv4 addresses could also result in more Network Address Translation (NAT) that could degrade the Internet experience. To help conserve IP addresses, NATs are used extensively within households: the router in a household is assigned an IP address; then, all the devices within that household share that same IP address via RFC 1918 private use sub-addresses. The private use addresses are reused all over the world.

NATs (and Gnats) Are A Nuisance

Although NATs are used regularly, they can be troublesome. For instance, family members trying to use different devices to play an online game with each other can have problems if the game has trouble differentiating between the players because of the common IP address.

If IPv6 doesn’t become ubiquitous, providers may have to resort to large-scale NATs, sharing IP addresses across possibly hundreds of people in different households. If that happens, "things are going to get hairy," said Jimmerson. "Is the future going to be large-scale IPv4 NAT, or are we going to deploy IPv6?"

The transition to IPv6 is not just a problem for service providers. Manufacturers of customer premise devices must support IPv6, and content providers need to prepare, as well. For example, vendors of online games need to include IPv6 in their software and servers.

To trial IPv6 and call attention to the matter, ISOC is hosting World IPv6 day on June 8 with key players, including Akamai, Comcast, Facebook, Google, Limelight Networks, Time Warner Cable and Yahoo! "It’s a 24-hour test flight focused on content providers and to focus attention on the adoption topic," said Jimmerson.

He said the most difficult challenge is getting the word out that it’s important to transition to IPv6. After the first 20 percent of users transition, the rest will just follow, he predicts. And the remaining 80 percent will have the benefit of best-practice documentation created by the early adopters.

In a worst-case scenario, if IPv6 doesn’t take off in a big way, there will be such a demand for IPv4 addresses, that there will be a market for them, with companies buying, selling and trading for IPv4 addresses.

"IPv6 is a major inflection point in the evolution of the Internet," said Jimmerson. "We need to make sure we can all communicate with each other in the future. It’s about the entire Internet and how it’s run. We’re relying on the people in this room (at the IPv6 Summit) to start moving us forward with this."

-Linda Hardesty

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