June 8 will be the first-ever World IPv6 Day, when participating Internet service providers, content management networks and Web companies will switch to IPv6 networks for 24 hours in the world's first stress test of the next-generation networking protocol.
More than 200 companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, are participating, according to the Internet Society.
If nothing crashes and burns spectacularly, then most people online won't even notice anything different. Some companies may see only a slight hiccup or lose some connections due to network incompatibilities, but what's likely to happen is that if IPv6 isn't working, most users will automatically failover to IPv4, which will continue humming along quietly, business as usual.
"It's a little strange that we are all excited," about World IPv6 Day, Asaf Greiner, the vice president of products at Commtouch.
That said, Internet service providers and governments will be paying close attention to what happens during World IPv6 Day, Greiner said. As more companies start moving their applications and services to IPv6, they will need support from their ISPs, so it's important the ISPs make the shift and make sure their IPv6 deployments are successful. The United States government has also mandated that all federal agencies be ready for IPv6 by the end of next year. Many federal agencies, including the United States Postal Service and Department of Treasury, are listed as participating in the worldwide test.
IPv6 is not a "one-day" thing, but rather an ongoing process that companies have been working on for almost 13 years and something they will continue working on for at least a decade, Greiner said. IPv4 will continue to co-exist with IPv6 as it has for the past decade and will not go away anytime soon because it will be a very complicated process to shut down IPv4 networks entirely.
As long as there is at least one user, one customer who is using IPv4, the company will not shut it down, according to Greiner. It's very much like the scenario with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web browser. Organizations know it's obsolete and that it has security and performance issues, but as long as there is a business need, they will continue using IE6. The same policy will apply to IPv4 networks down the road, Greiner said.
The IPv6 migration is an eventual necessity, because there aren't a lot of unused addresses left. The pools of unassigned IPv4 addresses expired in February, and in April, the Asia Pacific region ran out of its allocation, except for a small reserve for start-up companies. ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers), which assigns addresses to North American network operators, said it will deplete its supply of IPv4 addresses this fall.
Organizations have been very slow about migrating to IPv6. In a recent Computing Technology Industry Association survey, 23 percent of organizations have upgraded, 30 percent just did some research and another 30 percent did absolutely nothing about IPv6.
There are a number of reasons for that, such as not wanting to be the first to try out a new technology. Many service providers are staying away from IPv6 and are waiting to hear about the mistakes and experiences of larger companies and ISPs, Greiner said. Most companies will also wait until there is more "activity" available on IPv6 before even thinking about switching their network and servers.
Even though the conversion to IPv6 is expected to take decades, there are estimates that show that for some organizations, not converting their public-facing applications to IPv6 may result in actual revenue losses as early as January 2012, according to CompTIA.
Greiner still doesn't see a rush, noting that the timing isn't critical. "If someone doesn't move to IPv6 in the next year, the sky is not going to fall," Greiner said.