IPv6 Is Launched (Yawn, Stretch)
by Leslie Ellis // June 18 2012
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 anti-climax 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 IP 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 running out for sure, but nobody 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 with smaller telephone numbers than now will get this immediately; I grew up with a single seven-digit telephone number (348-9619!) and now use several 10-digit numbers.
Just as there exists a community of people around the technologies of ad sales, and DOCSIS modems, and cellular backhaul, and on and on, there exists a community of very bright network engineers who spent the last five or more years making sure the rest of us still get connected, after the address pool depletes.
This community of people, after the launch of IPv6 last week, seemed 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. “Super smooth, 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, note YouTube as the biggest v6 gainer last year, and Facebook this year.
Missing from the party, so far, are consumer electronics manufacturers – as a rule of thumb, your smart phone, 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 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 anyone’s work is done. What happens now? For operators, upgrades to IPv6 will continue, CMTS-by-CMTS, then upgrading firmware in cable modems, gateways, and related in-home gear.
Ultimately, from now on, the IPv6 scene is less of a race against depletion, and more a series of maneuvers to segue more devices and services onto the newer, bigger address pool.