ipv6When World IPv6 Day kicks off tomorrow, it will have a considerably more ambitious goal than a similar event last year had.

While last year’s event was essentially a one-day test of IPv6 technology, “the goal this year is to turn it on and leave it on,” said Owen DeLong, IPv6 evangelist for Hurricane Electric, an IP backbone network operator that made an unusually early IPv6 deployment years ago.

Many of the people who participated in last year’s event will participate again, as well as many newcomers, DeLong said. Overall, he said, there will be more participants this year.

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The focus of IPv6 Day is on website operators such as Yahoo and Google, who will be enabling their websites to deliver content to IPv6 addresses, as well as traditional IPv4 addresses.

“People using IPv4 will still be able to reach those sites,” explains Scott Kearn, who handles sales and marketing for GlobalIPv6 – a training firm focused on IPv6.

To support IPv6 connectivity, website operators need an IPv6 connection to the Internet, a capability that large website operators have demanded from their service providers – often multiple redundant service providers – for several years. And last year’s tests found few problems with those connections.

The more interesting questions are about the end users who will be attempting to reach these IPv6-enabled websites. Worldwide the number of people capable of using IPv6 is still under 1% according to research from Google, said Craig Sprosts, general manager of fixed broadband solutions for Nominum, a provider of domain name service applications for service providers.

Nevertheless the percentage of IPv6 users has seen a “dramatic uptick,” said Sprosts. “It’s still low, but rising pretty dramatically.”

Many service providers have deployed IPv6 capability in the core of the network and offer IPv6 connectivity to business customers that request the service. But only a few service providers have begun to routinely enable IPv6 networks all the way to residential customers. Leading this charge in the U.S. is Comcast, which says it now has enabled hundreds of thousands of customers with IPv6.

It’s important to note, though, that Comcast broadband customers that are IPv6-enabled get both an IPv6 and an IPv4 address – and the vast majority can only communicate using IPv4. The company estimates that about 5% of those customers in areas where the cable modem termination system has been upgraded to support IPv6 can actually use it. The issue is that customers have to enable their home routers to support IPv6 and many of those routers do not support the protocol.

In some cases, this issue can be addressed via a software upgrade, said John Brzozowski, distinguished engineer and chief architect for IPv6 for Comcast, in an interview. In other cases, the customer would need a hardware upgrade, he said.

Despite these hurdles, Brzozowski said, “you’d be surprised at the level of interest we’ve received.” Some customers just want the latest technology, he said.

Last year some service providers conducted tests of IPv6-enabled endpoints by, for example, attempting to contact every website participating in IPv6 Day. Some of these tests were fairly limited, depending on how extensively a service provider had deployed IPv6. Undoubtedly we will see more of these tests occurring this year.

But Brzozowski said Comcast isn’t planning any special testing because the company already does extensive performance measurements on IPv6. The company will have key engineering staff on call tomorrow, but he isn’t expecting many problems.

“We’ve been at it for almost seven years,” said Brzozowski. “And we’ve had the opportunity for testing in advance.”

He noted, for example, that Facebook already launched content worldwide over IPv6 and that YouTube left some IPv6 servers operational after last year’s IPv6 Day. Comcast’s own content also has been IPv6-enabled, he said.

According to research released today from Nominum, about 23% of North American Internet service providers currently support IPv6, but that number is expected to climb to 100% by next year. Sprosts wasn’t able to estimate what percentage of end users with IPv6 available to them could actually use it. But he noted that the replacement time for end user devices is in the four- to six-year range.

“For everybody to get on IPv6 will take around that amount of time,” he predicted.

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