The IT world was abuzz with excitement on June 6, 2012 as World IPv6 Launch Day unfolded: The day that IPv6 would replace outdated IPv4.Aside from the big guys (think Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, AT&T, and Comcast), the rest of the world has struggled to adapt—including the United States government. 1
Any machine that connects to the Internet needs to have its own unique IP (Internet Protocol) address, and under IPv4 was limited to 4.3 billion unique IP addresses worldwide. 2 Sounds like plenty, right? The truth is, the Internet was running out. In fact, while not all addresses are currently in use, all available IPv4 addresses had been assigned for distribution by various world bodies as of 2011. 1 And these addresses will start to go more quickly as people, businesses, and government agencies adopt more mobile technologies. Just consider all of the machines that you use—both personally and at work—along with machines that are now obsolete, and you can start to understand why there is a concern.
The intent with IPv6 was to create a new, permanent Internet address protocol that would provide 18 quintillion blocks of 18 quintillion available addresses, which is enough to last indefinitely. New technology is boosting demand even further. IPv6 was selected as the final name for the new IP protocol, as IPv5 was merely an experimental real-time streaming protocol.
As the world moves into a M2M (machine-to-machine) way of life, where machines “talk” with one another, there will be an explosion in the need for microprocessors or sensors that are connected to the Internet and are used to gather and transmit information. Any machine that has such wireless capabilities requires an IP address—your smart phone (essentially a miniature computer) has an IP address! Any object that is part of the Internet of Things requires its own IP address: Examples include the sensors can be attached to your dog’s collar in case he gets lost or used to change traffic lights when congestion or an accident is detected. 1,2
Since IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t interoperable, organizations that provide online services will need to handle traffic from both versions at the same time. In order for public and private entities to be able to communicate with the new IPv6 traffic, plans must be put into place to update current infrastructure before the old IPv4 addresses run out. If they don’t, those who are operating with a new IPv6 address won’t be able to access information from sites that only support IPv4. This transition doesn’t come without challenges.
A September 30, 2012 deadline was set for all federal government agencies to enable the IPv6 protocols on public-facing websites. Most federal agencies missed this deadline, but progress is being made. 3 According to a recent article from Government Technology, the states of Utah, Delaware, and California are getting prepared for the transition. For their technology officers, planning ahead, anticipating technology hurdles, and performing intensive testing have been key to the journey.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is tracking the IPv6 transition, and they update the statistics daily here.
1. Stone A. “What Happened to IPv6?” March 28, 2013. Government Technology website www.govtech.com. Available at http://www.govtech.com/wireless/What-Happened-to-IPv6.html. Accessed April 3, 2013.
2. Bort J. “Everything You Need to Know about the New Internet – The Internet of Things.” March 29, 2013. Business Insider website www.businessinsider.com. Available at
http://www.businessinsider.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-internet-of-things-2013-3?op=1. Accessed April 3, 2013.
3. Jackson W. “Too many agencies asleep at the wheel as IPv6 deadline looms.” Sept. 20, 2012. GCN website www.gcn.com. Available at http://gcn.com/articles/2012/09/20/agencies-to-miss-ipv6-deadline-ipv4-depletion.aspx. Accessed April 3, 2013.