During the past six months, the Internet engineering community has undertaken an unprecedented effort to promote IPv6 as an urgent and necessary upgrade for network and website operators to allow for the continued, rapid growth of the Internet.
The symbol of that effort is World IPv6 Day, a 24-hour trial of IPv6 that is sponsored by the Internet Society and scheduled for June 8. So far, 200-plus website operators -- including Google, Yahoo and Facebook -- have agreed to participate in the event by serving up their content via IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol called IPv4.
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Amid the buzz around World IPv6 Day, it's hard not to wonder: What if IPv6 fails to catch on after this event? What if the Internet is still 99 percent based on IPv4 five years from now as it is today?
Proponents of IPv6 make dire predictions about the fate of the Internet if usage of IPv6 doesn't rise dramatically in the next few years. They say the complexity of the Internet infrastructure will increase, network operations costs will rise, and innovation will be hampered. This is due to the multiple layers of network address translation (NAT) devices that will be required to share limited IPv4 addresses among a rapidly growing base of users and devices.
"If IPv6 fails to catch on, then the Internet will include nesting of NAT upon NAT," says Russ Housley, chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet standards body that created IPv6. "I hope this is not our future because it would be a very fragile Internet, making innovation more difficult. On the other hand, IPv6 will greatly reduce the need for NAT, restoring the opportunities for innovation that were envisioned by the original Internet architecture."
Dorian Kim, vice president of IP engineering, Global IP Network at NTT America, a leading provider of IPv6 services in the United States, says that without IPv6 the Internet "will be even more heavily NATed than it currently is, but life will mostly go on. Unfortunately, such an Internet likely will have a negative effect on potential development of application or service innovation due to inherent issues with NATs. Additionally, should service providers become more and more reliant on NATs, this will probably change the cost and scaling trajectories of Internet services over time due to high cost and limited scalability of large-scale NAT solutions.''