Birthday Party for the New Internet

IPv6 is "the New Internet", Internet Protocol version 6. It replaces IPv4 which we have all come to know and love over the past decades. Next Wednesday will be a birthday party of sorts ... maybe more like a debut.

The new information superhighway has been under construction for years. It is now begining to carry noticable traffic.

(For the pedantic and curious, yes, there was an IPv5, but that story is told elsewhere.)

World IPv6 Day

To celebrate, and to run a bit of a test drive, organizers will hold "World IPv6 Day" next Wednesday, 2011 June 8th. That day, many major internet sites (Google, Yahoo, etc) will activate full and preferred access to their wares via IPv6. IPv4 will still be available during the event, but users with IPv4-only will come in second. (You probably won't notice any delays. Thee point is to find out if and when and where you would.)

If you're on z/OS or z/VM or zLinux, your stack is ready. Your apps might not be ready (and most of us are not running IE on MVS), but the operating system is ready. (Talk to your app writers.) Linux, as shipped, is probably 99% ready, maybe better.

Old and New ... at the Same Time

When the Eisenhower Interstate System was under construction, the old "US Highways" routes were still fully available. Eventually, interstate was completed and today it is preferred, though many of the "US" routes are still in use. Similarly, IPv4 and IPv6 coexist at the moment. Few sites are likely to close their IPv4 access for a long time yet. (Most maybe never, for varying values of "never".) Let's all reminisce about Route 66.

Some sites ( is one) don't have IPv6 listed yet. They might have IPv6 connectivity, but they're not telling anyone. Other sites (Google, Facebook) have special DNS names for their IPv6 connections. You have to take pains to use the IPv6 connection. On IPv6 day, the new route will be right there with the old IPv4 route. You won't have to do anything special to get it.

The Big Snore

This is infrastructure. Most people don't get excited about it. Most won't and don't and even should not care. In your car, if you want to go from Biloxi to Baton Rouge, you just go. Sure, the interstate is faster (now), but if you're not driving you really don't care about these details. US 90 is the scenic route. I-10 is the usual pick.

If you're an executive in charge of IT readiness, you need to wake up. If you're a programmer or an engineer, you need to pay attention (and keep your boss informed).

When you're on the internet, you use the Domain Name System to get around rather than typing numeric addresses ... most of the time. On World IPv6 Day, one thing that will happen is that the DNS will direct you to IPv6 addresses first, if possible. This virtual TomTom will direct you to IPv6 or IPv4. You'll just go. Again, most users won't see any difference. And it's just one day ... for now.

As an example, if you hit, the DNS will give you either an IPv4 address or an IPv6 address. Your web browser and other such internet software will figure out for you which kind of address it wants for which information superhighway it prefers, old or new. Web browsers like Firefox have been doing this silenly for months. (Everyone please buy the Mozilla developers a beer at SCIDS.)

Again, executives need to think about this before there is a crisis. When the infrastructure is humming along, it's easy to get lulled to sleep. Don't! And you (we!) technicians are responsible too. We need to get the facts, assess the risks, and deliver the plan to management. Don't panic. There is no emergency. But there is change.

Like Phone Numbers

Internet addresses are like phone numbers. These days, most of us use our contacts (on cell phones, at least) instead of punching in the 10-digit string. Using the Internet DNS is like having an automatic contacts list.

10 digits ... remember when it was less? like 7 ... or even 5? (Maybe fewer in some early exchanges, but I'm not that much of a telephone system historian.) Originally, you only needed to dial 10 digits if you included the area code. But we ran out of room, added more area codes, and now have "overlay" area codes. Area Code 212 used to refer to all of NYC, but now is only used for Manhattan telephone exchanges, and the borough has two other area codes.

What has happened is that the Internet has run out of addresses. Like telephone numbers, the addresses are doled out in blocks. New York City did not blow past 10 million phones (all possible combinations of 7 digits) when they had to break out of the 212 area code. But they had come close to 1000 exchanges ... close enough for the engineers to take action. So it is here. The original internet (IPv4) can address 4 billion computers. If there are 4 billion computers in actual working order, they are not online at the same time. The problem is that the chunks have been handed out.

IPv4 uses 32 bits. That's roughly equivalent to 9 digits (base 10) and then some. IPv6 uses 128 bits. It's something like 39 decimal digits. That's a lot of numbers. No where near a googol, but big. We should be able to slice out blocks and chunks for several years.

-- R;