An alliance of website operators, network operators and router manufacturers is ensuring that 6 June passes unnoticed by the majority of internet users. An odd aim, perhaps, but a good one, because if their campaign succeeds then its effects will be largely invisible.
They have designated today World IPv6 Launch day. The campaign is designed to ensure the broadest uptake and permanent enablement by infrastructure providers of the 128-bit internet-layer protocol. IPv6 allows vastly more IP addresses than 32-bit IPv4, which is running out of address space with the burgeoning number of internet-enabled mobile devices.
IPv6 offers a potential 340 trillion trillion trillion unique addresses against IPv4's mere four billion, according to IPv6.org.
Akamai, Comcast, Google, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, D-Link, Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft Bing and Yahoo are among the participating companies.
Campaigners face an uphill battle, despite the obvious limitation of four billion IP addresses in a world of nearly seven billion people, about one third of whom are online, often with multiple devices.
To date, IPv6 deployment has been slow and accounts for a tiny percentage of internet traffic. Today's 'launch' (IPv6 was developed in 1990) is designed to provide an "acelerated timeline", say organisers.
World IPv6 Launch day is not the first such event: World IPv6 Day passed almost unnoticed in 2011, leading the campaigners to add a 'This time it's for real' tagline to the 2012 campaign.
The 'real' element comes in the form of targets for participants, namely that one per cent of ISPs' residential wireline users visiting participating websites will do so via IPv6 by this month; particpating home router manufacturers will enable IPv6 by default across their product lines, and web companies in the alliance will enable IPv6 on their sites permanently.
Inevitably, the day has attracted its share of Millennium-Bug-style doom merchants who are keen to position their products and services. The underlying issue is rooted in fact, however: two distinct protocols means, in effect, two distinct networks, and that means bolting them together securely.
"Although an obvious catalyst is the lack of IPv4 address space, we have seen other factors in the migration or transition to IPv6," said Mike Sapien, enterprise telecoms analyst at research firm Ovum. "The proliferation of devices, mobile access to resources and B2C applications are driving customers to support IPv6.
"In addition, this isn’t really a complete migration – it is more of a dual-support capability that will be enabled for many years to come."
David Krozier, network infrastructure analyst, added: "Discussions with equipment vendors have convinced us that implementing IPv6 is mainly a software or firmware issue for most network equipment, although older home residential gateways may require replacement.
"Most recent-vintage computers and servers are IPv6 ready. Microsoft Vista, Windows 7, and MAC OSX 10.7 all have IPv6 enabled by default."
Despite the campaign, none of the participating websites appear to be displaying the campaign's logos today, and as of this morning, 74.9 per cent of all the participating websites were reachable via IPv6 from the UK, according to the campaign's measurement tool.
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