The largest experiment in the 40-year history of the Internet will take place on Wednesday, as hundreds of Web sites test a new standard called IPv6 that can support vastly more devices with faster, lower-cost connectivity than today's technology.
The Internet's biggest players - including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft - are among the 318 corporations, universities and government agencies that are participating in World IPv6 Day.
On June 8, these Web sites will serve up content using IPv6 as well as the current standard called IPv4. This large-scale IPv6 trial will allow network engineers to determine how well IPv6 works and to pinpoint technical difficulties such as misconfigured systems that will cause delays for some end users trying to access participating Web sites.
The 24-hour event is already being hailed as a success for raising the visibility of IPv6 in the five months since it was announced by its sponsor, the Internet Society.
"A main goal for World IPv6 Day has been to encourage content providers and ISPs to break the existing 'chicken-and-egg' challenge of IPv6 deployment by coming together to take the plunge of turning on IPv6 for 24 hours," said ISOC spokesman Greg Wood. "We've had tremendous response with hundreds of websites around the world signing up to participate."
The Internet needs IPv6 because it 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 backwards compatible with IPv4. That means Web site operators have to upgrade their network equipment and software to support IPv6 traffic.
The networking industry is hoping that World IPv6 Day will be the impetus for their customers to spend the money to upgrade to IPv6.
"The whole purpose of the day is to highlight issues in the end-to-end network around IPv6," says John Arledge, senior director of corporate marketing at Nominum, a DNS vendor that is supporting IPv6 on its main Web site in preparation for Wednesday's trial. After the event is over "we expect companies will be looking to Nominum to help them with their IPv6 implementations."
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