IPv6 is live: does anybody care?

It's been germinating in the background for years, but this week saw IPv6 get its big debut. Did you even notice?

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) took as long to bring from conception to launch as Duke Nukem Forever or Guns 'n' Roses' Chinese Democracy album. It is of absolutely zero interest to 99 per cent of internet users. And its apparently successful introduction on Wednesday (the sixth day of the sixth month, for those who think that World IPv6 Day is a somewhat arbitrary designation) attracted about as much attention as a country town after the introduction of a bypass.

However you feel about IPv6 — and, given that you are reading this site, you probably feel far more interest in it than most people do — there's little doubt that it has wormed its way into the collective consciousness of the telco community. While most people were busy cracking their beers and tuning in for the Queen's Jubilee celebrations, network engineers everywhere were nervously watching their routers and telecoms links to ensure that whatever IPv6 transition they had affected would not fail spectacularly.

How did you go? Are you out of a job because of an IPv6 disaster?

I didn't think so. I don't, by any stretch of the imagination, want to discredit the effort involved in this transition for those who made it, but it's been coming for a long time, and I really was more interested in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Maybe someone should have told the queen to mention World IPv6 Day at her big event.

Advocates have tried everything to get people more interested in the protocol — linking it to the upcoming London Olympics, for example. Tech firms like Kogan, Internode and Ovum hurled off a cavalcade of press releases, hoping to Trumpet their IPv6 credentials.

Those who have been lingering online for as long as I have will get the in-joke in that last sentence: Trumpet Software International was an Aussie start-up; its Winsock-compliant TCP/IP stack was a major hit way back in the days when Microsoft Windows didn't even know how to spell internet.

The people who care about IPv6 have done such a good job of talking to each other about it that the average consumer of technology can get away with having zero interest.

Most people, however, would never even pick up on that one, and assume that I had just made a careless capitalisation error. And this is precisely the challenge that IPv6 now faces: because the people who care about IPv6 have done such a good job of talking to each other about it, the average consumer of technology can get away with having zero interest in it.

And unless Kogan starts offering discounts to consumers accessing its website via IPv6, I don't think anyone outside of the IT industry is going to magically start caring.

This is all well and good, but the industry's shift to IPv6 raises a few practical questions. While IPv6 has backwards compatibility built in to it, for example, software — don't ask me which software, since I'm referring here to what is commonly known as "basically all of it" — must all eventually be rewritten to accommodate the larger address space.

Just as instruction manuals for home-networking products have managed to train many punters to understand that their computers actually talk to each other using four-digit addresses, they're now going to have to be rewritten with massive and unfamiliar-looking addresses that will resonate with very few.

Security vendors will need to be particularly vigilant, because hackers will most certainly be adapting their efforts to less-protected IPv6 topographies; many of their old tricks will be blocked, but others will break through to wreak havoc in new and relatively unpredictable ways.

Whether this drawn-out game of catch-up ends up causing real problems for punters — for example, through some sort of shock DNS disaster — or whether it's a battle that is, like the largely unseen conflict taking place in The Matrix, fought in the background noise of most people's internet consciousness, remains to be seen.

How was your World IPv6 Day? Did you celebrate by making a six-sided cake for your gran? Or bore your loved one by making pillow talk about the architectural advantages of 128-bit addresses? Or did you spend the day in your underground bunker waiting for the world to end?