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Google, Facebook & Yahoo commit to ‘World IPv6 Day’ trial

Several of the Internet’s most popular Web sites – including Facebook, Google and Yahoo – have agreed to participate in the first global-scale trial of IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet’s main communications protocol known as IPv4.

FOR BACKGROUND: IPv6 Tutorial

The trial — dubbed “World IPv6 Day” — requires participants to support native IPv6 traffic on their main Web sites on June 8, 2011. Leading content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight Networks also committed to the IPv6 trial, which is being sponsored by the Internet Society.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to take IPv6 for a test flight and try it on for a full 24 hours,” says Leslie Daigle, the Internet Society’s Chief Internet Technology Officer. “Hopefully, we will see positive results from this trial so we will see more IPv6 sooner rather than later.”

IPv6 is a necessary upgrade because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the 30-year-old IPv4 standard.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Evolution of the Internet

Less than 5% of IPv4 addresses are left unallocated to the regional Internet registries, which in turn dole them out to network operators. Experts say the free pool of IPv4 addresses will be depleted in a matter of weeks.

IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices – 2 to the 128th power.

When World IPv6 Day occurs, there’s likely to be a surge of IPv6 traffic across the Internet. Today, IPv6 represents less than one-twentieth of 1% of overall Internet traffic, according to Arbor Networks.

One issue is whether IPv6 will be up to the task of providing production-grade performance on such heavily trafficked sites.

The Internet Society estimates that a minority of Internet users – 0.05% – will experience slowdowns or have trouble connecting to participating Web sites during the trial because of misconfigured or misbehaving network equipment, primarily in their home networks.

“There may be some individual hiccups for some small access providers or users, but IPv6 is not an experimental technology,” Daigle says. “I do believe it will work.”

The day-long IPv6 trial is a critical development for content providers such as Google and Facebook, which until now have been supporting IPv6 at separate, dedicated Web addresses rather than on their main traffic-heavy Web sites. Google, for example, says it will enable IPv6 on its main Web sites – including www.google.com and www.youtube.com – for World IPv6 Day.

The event is also a big deal for Yahoo, which has been reluctant to support IPv6 because of concerns about using a DNS whitelisting approach like Google’s, which provides IPv6 content only to users with known end-to-end IPv6 connectivity.

“Participating in World IPv6 Day will allow us to obtain real-life data that we can use to ensure a seamless user experience as we transition to IPv6,” said Adam Bechtel, vice president of Yahoo’s Infrastructure Group, in a statement. “We welcome this opportunity to collaborate with the technical community and provide leadership in addressing the scaling challenges facing the Internet.”


What is IPv6?

IPv6 stands for Internet Protocol version 6. It is the second version of the Internet Protocol to be used generally across the virtual world. The first version was IPv4. IPv5 was a protocol of a different sort, intended to support video and audio rather than all-purpose addressing. IPv6 is also known as IPng, which stands for IP Next Generation.

One of the main upgrades in IPv6 is in the number of addresses available for networked devices. For example, each mobile phone or other kind of electronic device can have its own IPv6 address. IPv6 allows 3.4×10^38 addresses. This is mainly due to the number of bits in each protocol. IPv4 addresses have 32 bits in them and so allow a maximum of four billion addresses. IPv6 addresses have 128 bits.

However, IPv4 is still the protocol of choice for most of the Internet. The transition will be a steady one, and IPv6 is the future of Internet addressing, mainly because industry experts believe that they are close to running out of available addresses altogether.

Another example of an IPv6 upgrade is multicasting, which is standard in IPv6 but only optional in IPv4. Multicasting is delivering a data stream to multiple destinations at the same time, with no duplication unless called for. Those functionalities are not supported by IPv4. The other two types of addressing that are standard practice for IPv6 are unicast and anycast. The former is a transmission from just one host to just one other host; the latter is from one host to the nearest of many hosts.

IPv6 also has two other significant advantages over IPv4. IPv6 offers a higher level of built-in security, and it has been specifically designed with mobile devices in mind. The security comes in the form of IPsec, which allows authentication, encryption, and compression. The mobility comes in the form of Mobile IP, which allows roaming between different networks without losing an established IP address. Both of these functionalities are requirements of IPv6 and so are designed to be built into every IPv6 stack, address, and network.

 

IPv6 to IPv4 Problems

 

Broken IPv6 connectivity is often caused by 6to4 tunnels that don’t work. 6to4 is a system whereby a computer or a home gateway can create IPv6 addresses from an IPv4 address and connect to the IPv6 Internet by encapsulating IPv6 packets inside IPv4 packets. A remote gateway then decapsulates the packets and encapsulates the packets in the other direction. The problem with 6to4 is that it depends on gateways operated by volunteers. Those gateways may work very well, be slow, or not work at all. And some ISPs don’t bother delivering their user’s packets to a gateway.

6to4 is only enabled if the system has a public IPv4 address. Places that give their users public IPv4 addresses, such as many universities, tend to use firewalls, which often filter out the IPv6-in-IPv4 packets. So broken 6to4 is not uncommon. However, after a recent Mac OS X 10.6 update, pretty much all operating systems prefer to use IPv4 over 6to4 IPv6 so broken 6to4 shouldn’t cause any problems if there is still working IPv4.

The Internet Society expects that on IPv6 day, 0.05 percent of all users will see problems. With a billion unique visitors, that’s still half a million people. If your job is phone support for one of these companies or an ISP, you may want to get your vacation request in as soon as possible. The advantage of many large Web destinations enabling IPv6 on the same day is that everyone will be on the lookout for IPv6-related problems, so those can be fixed quickly. If you don’t want to wait that long, visit test-ipv6.com to evaluate your readiness.

At this point, it’s hard to predict what this experiment could mean for the amount of IPv6 traffic that flows through the Intertubes. If a lot of users are IPv6-enabled, a good amount of traffic can move from IPv4 to IPv6 overnight. This depends on how many additional sites and networks join the effort, though.

In the meantime, on Monday, APNIC, the registry that gives out IP addresses in the Asia-Pacific region, got two more blocks of 16.78 million IPv4 addresses from IANA. APNIC burned through no less than 23.7 million in January—twice as much as their monthly rate in 2010. There’s only five blocks left now. These final five are expected to find a home on Thursday morning during a webcast ceremony in Miami.

Oh, and what happens when World IPv6 Day is over?

They turn IPv6 off again. Considering the fact that we’re scraping the bottom of the IPv4 barrel right now, and APNIC may even be clean out of addresses by June, maybe the Internet Society should reconsider that part of the plan.

VBS.TV And Reddit Are Leading Us Into The Golden Era Of Information Discovery

Something just happened online that is highly indicative of where we’re headed in terms of new media. Look at these two stories on VBS.TV and Reddit. They are totally independent from each other and nine months apart, but the two sites are presenting readers with unparalleled access to a fascinating story: how an Oklahoman was inspired by a ’60s-era underwater adventure show, went on to work at NASA to develop self-sustaining habitats, and is now developing an undersea colony off the Flordia coast. One did the video and the other is hosting a nearly-live conversation with the NASA engineer right now.

It’s stories like this – stories that would once rate a few feature pages in Discover magazine or Omni (remember Omni?) – that are now percolating through the Internet, to our benefit and to the detriment of old media who can’t keep up. Now we get the real story sans any nonsense graphics, anticlimactic taglines or fluff. It’s the future, everyone.

Saying that the Internet is killing traditional media is disingenuous at best. The Internet herself isn’t the antagonist, nor are the traditional media companies that are swiftly making online a priority. It’s the independent sites fueled by nothing but raw passion and curiosity that are transforming news consumption.

VBS.TV picked up the story early last year and produced an 18 minute video about the NASA’s undersea Atlantica Expeditions. Of course the video had the outlet’s trademark high production values and direct-but-honest approach. This is what VBS.TV does. They find an off-beat subject and cover it properly. See their coverage of North Korea. Or the art of nude photography. (NSFW) Or The Aquatic Life of Dennis Chamberland.

This particular video was produced under VBS.TV’s Motherboard channel, where the site’s editor, Alex Paternack, told me that they focus mainly on “The weird and exciting side of technology.” They discovered this man while searching for a story on undersea living and colonies. It was the perfect fit for Motherboard: a quaint backstory, great shooting location, and a man with words “NASA Bioengineer” on his business card.

This video and blog post were the result of the meeting. National Geographic went on to run a similar story in the Fall of 2010 that explored the subject in a broader sense over multiple episodes, but still (albeit less prominently) features Mr. Chamberland.

This is what VBS.TV and its shows like Motherboard do. During the previous season, just the Motherboard team was outing one featured documentary a week while simultaneously managing a clever website — which follows the same guiding principle but allows for user-submitted posts — that saw 500k unique visitors in December 2010. VBS.TV is a go-to alternative news outlet where this sort of stuff is the norm.

But here we are today when, nearly nine months later when Dennis Chamberland’s son encouraged the NASA bioengineer to do an IAMA on Reddit. Welcome, to the Internet, Mr. Chamberland.

Reddit is famous for their community of honest and curious users. These IAMA posts — Internet speak for “I am a [insert profession or human trait]” — are part of what makes Reddit great. Anyone from random users with an interesting story or celebrities do these sort FAQ posts. The purpose is that Reddit users are then open to ask questions that the IAMA will then answer. Reddit’s effective user moderation system then filters the good from the bad, resulting in an sincere, mostly flame-free, Internet conversation.

It’s this sort of interaction on Reddit, and story production and discovery from VBS, that is driving the Internet past traditional media. Take away the VBS.TV video and this NASA engineer could have still seen similar results and satisfying interaction on Reddit as Internet users crave new and fresh content.

Old media moving to the web and even blogs like us are not the so-called killers of print media. It’s the ability to bypass news outlets altogether and interact directly with the story or subject that will slowly draw attention away from the establishment.

The old standbys did pick up this story. National Geographic did their series on it, but watch it after the Vice video. One is frank, genuine and direct. The other is filled with fancy graphics and lots of filler. Then yesterday, on January 12th, CNN ran the story as part of their partnership with Vice but failed to add anything new to the story.

It’s not just Vice and Reddit. It’s Twitter and Facebook in a broader sense. It’s athletes interacting with fans on Twitter and Sarah Palin’s Facebook soapbox. It’s increasingly easier for the average world citizen to derive their own conclusion about a subject directly from the source and not through a news outlet’s political or corporate filter.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s interesting to note that one man’s quirky job became a meme, then a news topic, then a topic of general conversation. The news cycle isn’t dead, it’s just happening in new places.