World IPv6 Day: Tech industry's most-watched event since Y2K

The nation's largest telecom carriers, content providers, hardware suppliers and software vendors will be on the edge of their seats tonight for the start of World IPv6 Day, which is the most-anticipated 24 hours the tech industry has seen since fears of the Y2K bug dominated New Year's Eve in 1999.

More than 400 organizations are participating in World IPv6 Day, a large-scale experiment aimed at identifying problems associated with IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol known as IPv4.

BACKGROUND: Large-scale IPv6 trial set for June 8

Sponsored by the Internet Society, World IPv6 Day runs from 8 p.m. EST Tuesday until 7:59 p.m. EST Wednesday. The IT departments in the participating organizations have spent the last five months preparing their websites for an anticipated rise in IPv6-based traffic, more tech support calls and possible hacking attacks prompted by this largest-ever trial of IPv6.

"We're ready," says Cricket Liu, vice president of architecture at Infoblox, a World IPv6 Day participant. "We've got the IPv6 address on the Web server and the name server. ... The point of World IPv6 Day [is] to uncover issues and to prepare for a day when we do have much broader IPv6 adoption."

"We're seeing some IPv6 traffic already," says Hari Krishnan, director of product management at Nominum, a DNS vendor that is participating in the IPv6 trial. "It's still a very small percentage. But there is definitely a lot of interest in our customers in terms of rolling out IPv6-based Internet services. This is something they are planning or in the evaluation phase."

World IPv6 Day is the largest-ever experiment in the Internet's 40-year history. The goal of the event is to quantify issues such as misconfigured gear that will create broken connections for some users of IPv6.

"This is a test flight. It's been clear from the beginning that we're expecting problems," says Andy Champagne, vice president of engineering at Akamai, a content delivery network that carriers anywhere from 15% to 30% of the Internet's traffic and a World IPv6 Day participant. "I don't think I remember an event where we have had so many different companies working together to fix a problem. We have folks who are usually staunch competitors sharing information."

DETAILS: Can't reach your favorite website? IPv6 may be to blame

Many of the Internet's biggest companies are participating in World IPv6 Day, including:

-- popular websites such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Bing;

--ISPs such as Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon;

-- network equipment vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Blue Coat and Radware;

-- software suppliers such as Microsoft, Mozilla and Nominum.

Other participants include universities such as Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute, government agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, and tech industry groups such as the W3C.

Preparing for World IPv6 Day required a significant amount of planning, engineering work and testing, said Alain Fiocco, who leads the IPv6 program at Cisco.

"We had to work with our DNS provider and work with our ISP to make sure we had good connectivity and a redundant path to the ISP. These are the traditional things that you would do for a good, production-quality IPv4 network," Fiocco says. "We haven't really uncovered any big technical issues, nothing that was a show-stopper. So we feel pretty good about where we are today."

Cisco set up an IPv6 war room that will monitor its website and network activity for the 24-hour trial. The company also beefed up its technical support information available online and is allowing customers to share their experiences on World IPv6 Day.

"Over the last few weeks, we've been prolific in giving people advice on what to do, how to prepare and what kind of configurations to use. For that day, we have a plan in place to support our customers," Fiocco says. "There's been a lot of prep work and a lot of education for our own people."

Router manufacturer Juniper conducted a dry run a week ago, aiming IPv6 traffic at its website for a couple of hours to prepare for World IPv6 Day.

"Everything was fine, so we are confident that we will be OK," says Alain Durand, director of software engineering at Juniper. "There were lots of T's to cross and lots of I's to dot, but nothing really that difficult to prepare."

Throughout World IPv6 Day, participants will be monitoring their networks to study IPv6 traffic volumes and patterns and to look for security threats. 

"What we're going to look for is to see the locations where users are coming from, what kind of links they have, [if] there are any botnets, and could there be URLs we should blacklist," says Qing Li, chief scientist and senior technologist at Blue Coat, which is a World IPv6 Day participant. "We're going to do packet analysis to see if anyone is trying to circumvent our security policies and if any of the traffic contains actual malware."

RELATED: Hackers may try to disrupt World IPv6 Day

Verizon is anticipating an increase in IPv6 traffic on the Verizon Business networks that are IPv6 enabled as well as on its LTE wireless network, which supports both IPv6 and IPv4 in what's called a dual-stack configuration. Verizon plans to reach out to its customers on social media platforms to encourage them to try IPv6 during the trial.

"Our backbone will be carrying IPv6 traffic because of our peering and transit connectivity. That's where we're interested to see the IPv6 traffic," says Jean McManus, executive director of Verizon's Corporate Technology Organization. "We're kind of curious to see how much we can drive the traffic up on World IPv6 Day."

An increase in IPv6 traffic is the only thing that World IPv6 Day participants are hoping occurs in the next 24 hours. They're keeping their fingers crossed that other threats -- from misconfigured gear to hacking attacks -- don't come to pass. This is another way in which World IPv6 Day and Y2K are similar.

"My hope is that nothing happens on World IPv6 Day," Durand says. "The goal is to make sure that nothing happens and to build confidence that it is OK to deploy IPv6 and that IPv6 is not going to break the IPv4 Internet. We have been putting in place mechanisms to minimize the potential damage. This is the real learning from World IPv6 Day."

Most sites plan to turn off their IPv6 services when World IPv6 Day ends.

"It's a one-day experiment because we need to see how pervasive the problems are," Liu says. "If it turns out that the magnitude of the problem is bigger than ... we anticipated, then there is going to be some concerted effort to stamp out that behavior."

If World IPv6 Day goes as planned, participants predict that some websites will turn IPv6 on in production mode in the coming months.

"To see the momentum continue, we need to see more consumer electronic deploying IPv6, more content and more service providers adding subscribers," says John Brzozowski, distinguished engineer and chief architect for IPv6 at Comcast, which has an ongoing IPv6 trial. "I think we could see these announcements within weeks of the [World IPv6 Day] event ... depending on what we learn about IPv6 brokenness. If it wasn't really that broken after all, content providers may be more open to the idea of turning IPv6 on and leaving it on."

BY THE NUMBERS: Yahoo worries IPv6 upgrade could shut out 1M Internet users initially

ISPs and content providers are migrating to IPv6 because the Internet is running out of addresses using IPv4. The free pool of unassigned IPv4 addresses expired in February, and in April the Asia Pacific region ran out of all but a few IPv4 addresses being held in reserve for startups. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which doles out IP addresses to network operators in North America, says it will deplete its supply of IPv4 addresses this fall.

IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet, but IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses and can connect up a virtually unlimited number of devices: 2 to the 128th power. IPv6 offers the promise of faster, less-costly Internet services than the alternative, which is to extend the life of IPv4 using network address translation (NAT) devices.

One major stumbling block for IPv6 deployment is that it's not backward compatible with IPv4. That means website operators have to upgrade their network equipment and software to support IPv6 traffic

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "World IPv6 Day: Tech industry's most-watched event since Y2K" was originally published by Network World.

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