IPv6 Is Launched: Yawn, Stretch

6/18/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

In case you missed it, last Wednesday
(June 6) was World IPv6 Launch
Day. The fact that it was pretty much
a non-event was simultaneously
manna and anticlimactic to the men
and women who spent the last several
years working on it.

Why? When you get the bad guy
before the bad guy gets you, the taste
of success is … nuanced, at best.

In this case, of course, the
“bad guy” is the nearing and very real exhaustion
of the pool of Internet-protocol addresses used by
our computers, tablets, “connected” devices and
phones to get to the Internet. The existing pool,
based on a numbering schema known as IPv4, is
like water in the American West: It’s surely running
out, but no one really knows exactly when.

Luckily for us, this is not news to the forefathers
of the Internet, who realized as far back as the
early ’90s that the way they’d numbered the things
that need a connection wasn’t a big enough way of
numbering. Those of us who grew up using smaller
telephone numbers than now will get this immediately.
Back then, it was enough to know a single
seven-digit home number (348-9619!); now, I need
several 10-digit numbers.

Just as there exists a community of people
around the technologies of ad sales, DOCSIS modems,
cellular backhaul and on and on, there exists
a community of very bright network engineers
who spent the last fi ve or more years making sure
the rest of us can still get connected after the address
pool depletes.

After the launch of IPv6 last week, this community
seemed to be in limbo. More than one related
disappointment at the volume (or lack thereof, to
be precise) of IPv6-plumbed devices that identified
themselves to the Big Internet as such. “Supersmooth,
super-boring,” grumbled one v6 engineer.
“I was hoping for a bigger party.”

What happened? Some bandwidth-watchers,
like Sandvine, noted the surge in v6 traffic going
to and from Netflix and YouTube; others, like the
MSOs who turned up IPv6 in their networks, noted
YouTube as last year’s biggest v6 gainer and Facebook
as this year’s.

Missing from the party, so far, are consumerelectronics
manufacturers — as a rule of thumb,
your smartphone, laptop and PC are more likely to
be plumbed with an IPv6 address than your connected
TV, game console or Wi-Fi router. (Learning
this through discussions with Best Buy employees
is all the more entertaining. “What’s an IPv6?”)

Plus, some Internet things — browsers, like
Apple’s Safari, come to mind — default to IPv4,
as a vestige of the oddly named “Happy Eyeballs”
algorithm, which aimed to keep bits moving (and
therefore any connected clients “happy”). In essence,
if IPv6 got gunked up anywhere, the algorithm
defaulted back to IPv4.

Note: Just because World IPv6 Launch day
happened, doesn’t mean the work is done. What
happens now? For operators, upgrades to IPv6 will
continue, followed by upgrading firmware in cable
modems, gateways and related in-home gear.

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