Corporations and government agencies must IPv6-enable their public-facing websites in the next 24 months or risk upsetting a growing number of visitors with lower-grade connectivity.
"The drop-dead deadline for external websites to support IPv6 is 1 January, 2012," warns John Curran, President and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which distributes blocks of IP addresses to North American ISPs and other network operators. "When we get to the end of 2011, we're going to have a lot of people connecting over IPv6 and that doesn't bode well for the content providers who don't support IPv6."
IPv6 is the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is called IPv4.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support around four billion IP addresses. The Regional Internet Registries including ARIN announced Tuesday that more than 90% of IPv4 addresses have been allocated.
IPv6 is designed to solve the problem of IPv4 address depletion. It uses a 128-bit addressing scheme and can support so many billions of IP addresses that the number is too big for most non-techies to understand. (IPv6 supports 2 to the 128th power of IP addresses.)
Curran is urging website operators to deploy IPv6 following this week's revelation that less than 10% of IPv4 addresses are available.
Industry experts predict the rest of the IPv4 address supply will run out in 2012.
"We're down to the final 10% in the glass," Curran says. "Most people understand that when you're down to 10% of something, you're pretty much running out. We're there now."
When IPv4 addresses run out, carriers will give IPv6 addresses to their new customers. Those IPv6 users are likely to favor IPv6-enabled content rather than traverse gateways in order to access lesser-performing IPv4 content.
"Unless you're willing to have the path between you and one of your customers go through a third-party gateway that you don't know and that you don't have control over, you want to add IPv6 to your website," Curran says. "Then when customers try to access your site, you have a straight path with IPv6 and with IPv4."
Curran says it's more important for US CIOs to IPv6-enable their websites than it is for them to support IPv6 on their internal networks.
"The most important thing for enterprises is to make sure the content on the Internet gets IPv6 connectivity turned on in addition to IPv4. That's the top priority," Curran says. "Changing your internal network to support IPv6 is really based on when you see the benefits of making that transition, and that will vary by company. But your external, public-facing Web site affects many other organizations."
Only a handful of popular US websites support IPv6, including those operated by Google, Netflix, Limelight and Comcast.
Usage of IPv6 grew significantly in 2009, although it still represents a sliver of overall Internet traffic. Several carriers including Hurricane Electric and NTT America reported that IPv6 traffic on their networks doubled in 2009.