The IT industry is drawing attention to the transition of computer networks from the IPv4 standard to IPv6, declaring June 6 as IPv6 Day 2012, but a new survey shows that North America is behind other parts of the world in IPv6 adoption, though it's poised for more robust growth soon.
More than 2,000 organizations are set to activate their IPv6-enabled Websites on June 6, including those of Facebook, Google, Microsoft Bing and Yahoo. ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and networking equipment vendors such as Cisco Systems and Juniper are also promoting IPv6 Day, which was organized by a global industry group called the Internet Society. Also, content delivery network providers Akamai and Limelight will be enabling their customers to become IPv6-capable.
IPv6 is required to handle the growth in Internet traffic and devices connected to it because the supply of IPv4 addresses has nearly run out. An IPv4 address is only 32 bits long, creating a supply of just 4 billion addresses. The IPv6 address is 128 bits, creating more than 340 undecillion possible address combinations, which is a 34 followed by 34 zeros-a virtually unlimited supply.
But as IPv6 Day approached, a new study compared the adoption rates of IPv6 in different parts of the world and found North America towards the back of the pack. According to a study by Synergy Research Group, just under 20 percent of the world's installed base of enterprise routers are IPv6 capable. The highest adoption rate is in Western Europe at 28 percent, followed by Latin America and Asia-Pacific, tied with 17 percent each. North America is only at 12 percent, while the Middle East/Africa and Eastern Europe have only about 11 percent each.
But North America's adoption rate is lower because it has a greater supply of IPv4 addresses still available. "The depletion of IPv4 addresses is not as pressing in North America as it is in other regions," said Jeremy Duke, Synergy Research Group's founder and chief analyst. A white paper from Infoblox, a provider of Internet address management tools, says that some early Internet pioneers such as AT&T, IBM and the U.S. government still have large blocks of unused IPv4 addresses and they may end up returning many of those to the public domain.
Also, IPv6 adoption is higher in other regions because of government mandates. China and the European Union, for example, are requiring an IPv6 transition. In the United States, only the federal government is under such a mandate, not private enterprise.
However, prospects are brighter for stepped-up adoption going forward. The Synergy study forecasts that by 2016, the North America adoption will reach 60 percent, edging past the world average of 59 percent, while the Western Europe rate will reach 81 percent.
It's not as though the IPv4 network will be shut off one day and that anyone who's on an IPv4-only connection will be out of luck, explains John Lehane, senior manager of product marketing for Juniper Networks. Most enterprise networks, including Juniper's, are running IPv4 and IPv6 networks in parallel. And like most router and switch network vendors, Juniper's equipment supports both protocols out of the box. Juniper, along with many others participating in IPv6, have created duplicate Websites, one for each protocol.
While Lehane says Juniper still hears from some customers who mistakenly believe that "the end of the Internet is nigh," most understand that IPv4 and IPv6 networks will run in parallel for probably a decade or more.
Still, there is more reason than ever for enterprises to do the heavy lifting to migrate to IPv6.
"IPv4 exhaustion is here and it's now," he said, adding that new mobile devices and other end point devices being developed in the near future will have only IPv6 access so networks will need to be able to cater to them.