Dubbed Automatic IPv6, the new service is made possible through the use of proxies at CloudFlare's 14 data centers worldwide. The proxies translate incoming IPv6 traffic into IPv4 before being sent to a website. The service also provides IPv4-to-IPv6 translation services for new websites - particularly those in Asia - that are being built using IPv6 only.
IPv6 is the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4. Carriers, hosting companies and enterprises are migrating to IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4, so website operators must deploy translation services or run both protocols if they want to be reachable by all Internet users in the future.
Preparing for IPv6
CloudFlare offers hosted CDN and security services, including deep packet inspection aimed at stopping malware, spam and denial of service attacks. The company supports more than 100,000 websites, including bloggers, news sites and enterprises such as the government of Turkey.
"The mission of CloudFlare is to make the Web faster and safer," said Matthew Prince, CEO of CloudFlare. "We can stop [attacks] at the edge, before they get to a customer's data center. At the same time, we can auto detect resources on a Web page that are static, and cache those at the edge. On average, we double the payload speed at a website and reduce the loan on the Web server by about half."
Prince said CloudFlare handles more than 15 billion page views per month and supports more than 350 million unique Internet users. The company offers an advertiser-based service that is free as well as a service that is $20 per month and custom offerings for enterprise customers. Its business model is similar to OpenDNS, a free DNS service that also supports IPv6.
Now CloudFlare is bundling IPv6 translation capabilities with all of its caching and security services.
"There will be no additional cost for this feature," Prince said. "It's cheaper for us to run the traffic over the IPv6 network than the IPv4 network, so there isn't any additional, incremental cost for us."
One benefit for CloudFlare is that its network infrastructure is brand new and all of its routers and other network gear already support IPv6. So the company didn't need to undergo the daunting upgrade that rivals such as Akamai are making to support IPv6.
Buying time to upgrade
"We realised six months ago, we were in a position to help organisations that wanted to be on the IPv6 network but were not ready to make a substantial investment to upgrade their infrastructure," Prince said. "What we've been able to do is make deploying IPv6 for your Web presence as simple as one click. You keep your existing IPv4 infrastructure, you push one button on our site, and we will announce your IPv6 quad-A records. When a request comes from IPv6, we'll be able to handle it by our proxies ... translate it to IPv4 and hand it off to your IPv4 infrastructure."
Prince added that he doesn't think CloudFlare's IPv6 translation service is a "forever solution" but that it will buy companies time to upgrade the network infrastructure and data centers to support IPv6 over time.
CloudFlare says it has around 10,000 websites that are beta testing its Automatic IPv6 service.
Prince added, "Our goal is to fix the most daunting problems the Internet faces. We have a very different business model than our competitors."