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Launching Forward with IPv6

With the era of freely available IPv4 addresses nearing its end, I'm pleased to see that 2012 appears to be the year when the IPv6 Internet will finally reach maturity and launch into wide-scale commercial use.  For over a decade, the groundwork for the migration to version 6 of the Internet Protocol (IPv6) has been built, with changes to operating systems, client and server software, routers, and Internet backbone networks.  To-date, however, the availability of IPv6 content and end-users has remained slim with few Web sites being available over IPv6 and with just over 0.5% of global Internet users having IPv6 connectivity that their machines will elect to use.  

I'm optimistic that IPv6 adoption is on the verge of gaining real traction, and the upcoming World IPv6 Launch event on June 6th will be a milestone.  As part of World IPv6 Launch, many large websites (including quite a few Akamai customer sites) are permanently enabling access over IPv6.  In addition, some major ISPs are enabling IPv6 for over 1% of their end-users, and a few home router vendors are also enabling IPv6 by default in their products.  A more complete transition is going to take well over a decade, but with IPv6 access for both more content and more end-users, we are making progress towards that goal.

Akamai is committed to helping our customers with a smooth transition to IPv6.  We have had IPv6 capabilities for over a year and IPv6-enabled over 50 sites belonging to over 20 customers that participated in last year's World IPv6 Day event.  In April 2012, we released production IPv6 support for many of our products and solutions, including Dynamic Site Accelerator, Terra Alta, and Kona Site Defender.

Akamai has a constantly expanding global IPv6 footprint spanning over 53 countries, over 180 cities, and over 225 network providers (limited only by many of our network providers not yet offering IPv6 service).  This enables us to serve both IPv4 and IPv6 end-users from nearby server locations, minimizing latency and routing around network problems.

Enough sites are dual-stacked (available over both IPv4 and IPv6) on Akamai's services to put our daily IPv6 traffic levels above those from World IPv6 Day last year.  These sites include our own www.akamai.com and blogs.akamai.com.  We expect these traffic levels will continue to increase as more customer sites dual-stack in the lead-up to and in the period following World IPv6 Launch, where over 1/3 of the top 30 registered sites (by Alexa rank) will be using some of Akamai's IPv6 services.  In addition, as of May 18, over 700 U.S. government sites across 21 agencies were permanently dual-stacked using Akamai's services as we continue to help our customers meet the U.S. Federal government mandate requiring all public-facing government sites to be enabled for IPv6 by the end of September 2012.

Akamai's capabilities make it straightforward for our customers to make content available to end-users over IPv6 without needing to make networking infrastructure changes at their origin.  Clients are able to connect to Akamai servers over either IPv4 or IPv6, and the Akamai servers make a connection to the customer origin over IPv4.  Any client IPv6 addresses continue to be passed through in log files and request headers, enabling our customers to retain visibility into their user base.

Using Akamai to terminate IPv6 client requests is generally easier to setup than enabling IPv6 at an origin, and it also helps protect against some types of attacks (especially when used with Akamai's Kona Site Defender).  We have seen multiple instances of IPv6-enabled malware in the wild attempting to mount attacks, and it is almost certain that this trend will continue to grow.  In particular, some malware appears to be IPv6-ready and will switch to attacking over IPv6 when a client gains IPv6 connectivity and when a target site becomes dual-stacked.  As some people have been enabling IPv6 in a hurry, there is a risk that firewalls or security appliances protecting machines from attacks over IPv4 are not getting configured properly to protect against attacks over IPv6.

We have just released an updated version of our IPv6 White Paper.  It talks more about the state of the IPv6 Internet and provides more details about how IPv6 impacts Web content and application delivery.

Most of our customers who will be participating in the World IPv6 Launch milestone are well into integration and testing by now.  If you are ready to make your site available over IPv6, an Akamai representative can provide more details.  However, even for those who aren't yet ready or interested at this point (and jumping into IPv6 does not yet make business sense for everyone), World IPv6 Launch is just one milestone in the evolution of the Internet.  I look forward to being able to help the rest of our current and future customers make it smoothly through this transition.

Erik Nygren is Chief Architect at Akamai

Related Resources:

·         Akamai's IPv6 White Paper: What the IPv6 Transition Means for Content and Application Delivery (revised May 2012)

·         Preparing Your Enterprise for World IPv6 Launch - Network World article by Scott Hogg

·         NTIA's IPv6 Readiness Tool for Businesses