Google, Facebook to trial IPv6 access on key domains

Major websites will begin testing their readiness for the switch to IPv6 by performing a 24-hour trial run in the summer, to identify potential problems

Some of the internet's most popular domains such as Facebook and Google will enable IPv6 on their key services for 24 hours in the summer, in preparation for the transition to the new internet protocol, the Internet Society has said.

Vint Cerf IPv6 business

Major internet domains will trial IPv6 — championed by Vint Cerf (above) — in a test this summer. Photo credit: David Meyer

Facebook, Google and Yahoo will join with content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight on 8 June to test the services' performance on the companies' main websites, the nonprofit organisation said on Thursday.

Google has offered an IPv6-only version of its site since 2008, but this will be the first time that the company has enabled it for all visitors to its main and domains.

"By providing an opportunity for the internet industry to collaborate to test IPv6 readiness, we expect to lay the groundwork for large-scale IPv6 adoption and help make it ready for prime time," Leslie Daigle, the Internet Society's chief internet technology officer, said in a statement.

Daigle also welcomed any other sites that wish to participate in the trial. "The greater the scope of the test flight, the more effective it will be for all participants," she added.

Moving from the current IPv4 system to IPv6 is necessary as the IPv4 protocol is running out of internet addresses. Vint Cerf — co-inventor of TCP/IP — said in November 2010 that IPv4 addresses will run out within two years, meaning no new devices can be registered using the older system.

Global trial
The Internet Society said that one of the key goals of the test in June is to expose and address potential problems with IPv6 before they arise, though the organisation noted that issues could still arise later.

This is the first global trial of IPv6, so it may cause problems in networks that are not ready.

– The Internet Society

"This is the first global trial of IPv6, so it may cause problems in networks that are not ready. In rare cases, users with misconfigured or misbehaving network equipment may experience connectivity problems accessing participating websites during the trial. Even without corrective action, connectivity issues are likely to impact less than 0.05 percent of internet users — about one in 2,000," the organisation said.

Websites for organisations such as the European Network Information and Security Agency (Enisa) have already made the switch to IPv6.

Just 32 percent of ISPs offer IPv6 services to businesses, John Curran, chief executive of the nonprofit internet registry group American Registry for Internet Numbers (Arin), said in September.

Business case
The depletion of IPv4 stocks has been well documented — with current estimates putting reserves at around five percent — but businesses have been slow to move over to the new standard, according to networking expert Marco Hogewoning.

In addition, senior Forrester analyst Andre Kindness has argued that businesses have been slow to take up IPv6 because the argument for doing so has only been presented in terms of fear, rather than making the business case for the switch.

"I don't want to play down the risks associated with not addressing IPv6, but IPv4 exhaustion is not resonating as a reason to switch. Many infrastructure managers ask, 'other than the internet not working, what's the business value? How do I sell this compared to virtualisation?' It's about remaining relevant and competitive. Technology that enables the real-time, dynamic flow of information is critical for companies, organisations and governments," Kindness wrote in a blog post.

Neil Rickard, lead analyst for IPv6 at Gartner, said that it is important for companies to be aware that there is an IPv4 shortage and that a growing number of new endpoints on the internet will be IPv6 based. However, he believes that most businesses already have enough public IPv4 addresses for their own needs, especially as they often use private addressing internally.

"Therefore for most enterprises the appropriate action is to IPv6-enable their public internet presence, to ensure they can reach and be reached by all of the end points on the internet," Rickard told ZDNet UK. "We do not recommend that they transform their entire internal environment to IPv6, as there are significant costs and security risks associated with adopting IPv6."

Gartner estimates that on average, it would cost companies 6 percent of their annual IT budget to completely transform their IT environment from IPv4 to IPv6, he added.

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