The computing industry has begun a major 24-hour test to work the kinks out of IPv6, a disruptive but necessary overhaul of the Internet's inner workings. Starting at midnight, dozens of companies lit up servers, Web sites, and network infrastructure that communicate using Internet Protocol version 6. The test, called World IPv6 Day, provides a bit of deadline, albeit one that's more artificial and less pressing than the Y2K bug's January 1, 2000, zero hour.
Unfortunately, the IPv6 test could disrupt the Net for some people who have badly configured hardware or software, with a Web site taking more than two minutes to load instead of a few seconds. Fortunately, though, the problem probably won't affect very many people, and the test will help identify any trouble spots.
Yahoo estimates 0.05 percent of visitors to its Web site will see very slow response when their computers request IPv6 information that can't actually be received. That's a tiny percentage, but multiplied by Yahoo's huge traffic, it's still something like 30,000 to 50,000 people a day, said Adam Bechtel, the vice president for Yahoo's Infrastructure Group, who's overseeing the company's IPv6 transition.
What will the network look like for those who are affected?
"These users will experience a range of symptoms which could include slow page load times--really slow, like several minutes, not just a little slow," said Owen DeLong, who runs the professional services division at Hurricane Electric, a back-end Internet service provider that has had a concentrated IPv6 program for years. "In fact, the most common characteristic symptom is that a page element will stall for 90 seconds, then load at normal speed at the end of that pause. In some cases, the pause could be as much as three minutes. Other symptoms could include simply being unable to reach certain Web sites and other intermittent connection issues.
World IPv6 Day began at Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, and since then has spread to many other companies. It's overseen by the Internet Society, a standards and advocacy group. Though some number of ordinary folk will find out they have a problem with their Net connections, there's a bigger agenda at work here, too: to get sysadmins the world over to make the necessary steps to support IPv6. World IPv6 Day has been a hard-to-miss warning flag, an occasion where chief information officers might pester the IT staff to get cracking on IPv6 if they haven't already. And for those who have begun, it's an opportunity to find out if operations really are up to snuff.