This was the year that IPv6 garnered major headlines, but 2012 is expected to be the year when the next-generation Internet protocol gets widely deployed by U.S. carriers and enterprises.
IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is called IPv4.
IPv6 features an expanded addressing scheme that can support billions of devices connected directly to the Internet. But IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4, which is running out of addresses. Network operators can either support both protocols in what's called dual-stack mode or translate between IPv4 and IPv6, which could add latency and overhead cost.
IPv6 was in the news more during the last 12 months than at any other time since the protocol was specified back in 1998:
* In February, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority delegated the last blocks of IPv4 address space to the regional Internet registries.
* In April, the Asian regional registry APNIC used up all but a handful of IPv4 addresses that it is holding in reserve for start-up network operators.
* In June, more than 1,000 Web sites including Google, Yahoo and Facebook participated in a successful, 24-hour trial of IPv6 dubbed World IPv6 Day.
* In November, Comcast began its production roll-out of IPv6 services in the San Francisco area.
"There's been more news about IPv6 in the last 18 months than in the last decade," said John Brzozowski, chief architect for IPv6 and Distinguished Engineer with Comcast. Brzozowski made his remarks before an audience of CIOs, CTOs and other IT executives at a seminar called "The Critical Path to IPv6" held last week in New York City by Network World.
While there was much talk about IPv6 in 2011, experts say that IPv6 deployment will begin in earnest during 2012. That's because the reality of scarce IPv4 addresses is finally hitting home.
John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), says the North American supply of IPv4 addresses will run out in six to 18 months. The exact date of IPv4 depletion is hard to predict because it depends on how quickly the 10 largest ISPs in North America will use up the remaining supply of IPv4 address space
"My best guess is that we'll run out in a year and half," Curran said at the Network World seminar last week.
Curran says enterprises that need end-to-end connectivity with their users over the Internet - for such applications as video streaming or fraud detection - will need to deploy IPv6 rather than rely on their carriers to handle IPv4-to-IPv6 translation for them. These organizations "don't have a choice in deploying IPv6," Curran said.
One factor that will drive IPv6 deployment in 2012 is a U.S. government mandate that requires federal agencies to support IPv6 on all 10,000 of their Web sites by September 2012.
There's evidence that Web sites are already ramping up their IPv6 deployment efforts. A November survey by The Measurement Factory found that more than 25% of .com, .net and .org subdomains offer support for IPv6. That was an increase of 1,900% from 2010, when slightly more than 1% of subdomains supported the new protocol. The majority of this increase was the result of one domain name registrar - GoDaddy - enabling IPv6 for its customers.
"There's been more adoption of IPv6 in 2011 than all the previous years combined," said Paul Nicholson, director of product marketing at A10 Networks, at the Network World seminar. Nicholson recommends that organizations begin enabling their Web sites with IPv6 either in either dual-stack mode or with a server load balancer to handle protocol translation. "The need to move to IPv6 is critical," he added.
Brzozowski says IT executives have no choice but to deploy IPv6, and the sooner they start, the better.
"It's inevitable," he told the Network World seminar audience. "You should already be on your way or at least thinking about your IPv6 deployment...You will have to do something to make your business operate on the Internet."
Comcast has been working on its IPv6 deployment effort for seven years and plans to offer production-quality IPv6 service nationwide in 2012. After testing several transition mechanisms such as encapsulation and translation, Comcast decided to adopt a dual-stack strategy.
"IPv6 is a lot of work. There are a lot of moving parts," Brzozowski says, urging the audience to starting planning for IPv6 now. "Simply deploying IPv6 is a non-trivial activity."