The most popular websites are under increasing pressure to add support for IPv6, a long-anticipated upgrade to IPv4, the Internet's main communications protocol.
That pressure was ratcheted up a notch this week, with the news that Google has IPv6-enabed YouTube, its video streaming site. Google already offers IPv6 access on its main search service and many other popular web services. (For details on how seven of the largest sites are doing, see our list below.)
IPv6-enabled web content is "one of the things we need to have," says Timothy Winters, a senior manager at the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL), which provides IPv6 product testing.
"As all of these LTE and wireless broadband networks go to IPv6, the content providers have no choice but to create mobile content and make it IPv6 aware."
Winters said Comcast's recent announcement that it is running IPv6 trials is another sign that it's time for popular Web sites to support IPv6.
"We are starting to see these major Web sites embracing IPv6," Winters says, pointing out that Netflix demonstrated IPv6 access last year. "It's pretty easy to turn a basic Web server on to support IPv6…The biggest problem is the client software. That's why a lot of Web sites create separate IPv6 sites like Google and Netflix where you go if you have an IPv6 address because they don't want the site to [be slow.]"
For example, eBay is running IPv6 in its lab and plans to deploy the new protocol on its internal corporate network this year. The public-facing eBay Web site will be upgraded for what's called dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 access in 2011.
"IPv6 is the next generation. It's the future of the Internet, at least for those people who want to see the Internet continue to grow and continue to be part of the infrastructure," says Peter Manzella, senior director of global network services for eBay. "We are obviously on board with that."
Manzella says eBay's network services team has experienced no problems with its IPv6 testing so far.
"We do not expect any difficulties," he says. "We need to understand it. We need to make sure when we transition to it, it's seamless. … There are security concerns that we need to test … .We need to take the precautions that are necessary to ensure our community has a safe experience on the site."
IPv6 solves the problem that ISPs and other network operators face as the Internet runs out of IPv4 addresses, which is expected to happen in 2012. Less than 10% of IPv4 addresses remain unallocated as of January.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support approximately 4.3 billion individually addressable devices on the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and can support so many devices that only a mathematical expression - 2 to the 128th power - can quantify its size.
Here's where seven of the Internet's top websites stand in terms of IPv6 development:
Google is the undisputed leader in IPv6 adoption. Google supports IPv6 with its Search, Alerts, Docs, Finance, Gmail, Health, iGoogle, News, Reader, Picasa, Maps, Wave, Chrome and Android products. Last week, Google added IPv6 support to YouTube. Google engineers have said they want to be ready with IPv6-enabled content when ISPs begin giving their customers IPv6 addresses.
With more than 350 million active users - 65 million of them accessing the site through mobile devices - Facebook is planning its deployment of native IPv6 to its network backbone. Facebook says it wants to support both IPv4- and IPv6-aware clients. A company spokeswoman says Facebook "fully expect[s] to support native IPv6 user requests by the midpoint of this year."
Leading e-commerce site eBay has IPv6 running in its lab and will deploy IPv6 on its internal corporate network in the next six to eight months, Manzella says. "In terms of the Web site eBay.com, we will begin a phased approach of moving to IPv6 by the end of this year," he says. "It will be completed by the middle of next year."
Yahoo is an active participant in the IPv6 community, discussing the topic at Internet Society and North American Network Operators' Group (Nanog) meetings. Yahoo has started IPv6 peering around the world with various ISPs. It isn't serving up Web pages to IPv6 users yet, but a company spokesman says the popular portal plans to support IPv6 "as soon as possible."
Microsoft operates two of the Internet's most popular websites: Windows Live, with its Bing search engine, and the Microsoft Network, also known as MSN. While Microsoft wouldn't respond to our queries about when these two sites will be IPv6 enabled, we were able to find IPv6 traffic coming from the autonomous system numbers that power these websites. We also found Microsoft engaged in IPv6 peering arrangements with at least nine carriers worldwide including Hurricane Electric, the Internet's leading IPv6 backbone network.
The free online encyclopedia won't say when its main Web site will support IPv6. But Wikipedia IPv6-enabled its mail server and bug tracker application in 2008. Other miscellaneous services such as lists.wikimedia.org, svn.wikimedia.org and download.wikimedia.org also can be reached via IPv6. Back in 2006, Wikipedia briefly turned on IPv6 services but shut them down because of performance problems.
Twitter wouldn't comment on its IPv6 plans. As of August 2009, 19% of Americans said they used Twitter, according to a Pew Internet Life survey. These Twitter users are more mobile than average Internet users, with 40% of them accessing the Internet via cell phones. This trend means Twitter is under the gun to provide IPv6 support before carriers such as Verizon roll out their next-generation mobile networks, which mandate IPv6 support.