Facebook raring to give IPv6 a test flight

Network engineers worked for months to get ready for World IPv6 Day

After helping to hatch the plan for World IPv6 Day, set for Wednesday, a senior network engineer at Facebook is raring to test the site's reworked network.

Facebook Senior Network Engineer Donn Lee
Facebook senior network engineer Donn Lee

Facebook's Donn Lee has been getting the social network ready for this first worldwide test flight of IPv6 since last fall, when plans for the June 8 event were put in place. Wednesday is the day that the giants of the Internet -- Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Verizon and Facebook -- will give IPv6 a whirl and see how it works.

Lee, who came up with the idea for World IPv6 Day with Google network engineer Lorenzo Colitti, said he's confident all will go well and he's not expecting any surprises.

"I'm completely excited," Lee told Computerworld. "It's grown into a life of its own from our initial idea that we had in the hallways of a conference last summer. Seeing all the excitement and energy around this day is immensely rewarding. This is when the Internet enters into the next stage of its expansion."

IPv4 is the Internet's main communications protocol, but it is quickly running out of unique IP addresses for all the computers, smartphones and other devices that need to be hooked up to the Internet. Hence, the development of an upgrade -- IPv6, which is said to provide more than 85 octillion (8.5 times 1028) times more addresses than IPv4.

Some people worry that migrating to IPv6 will be time-consuming and expensive. Internet users on Wednesday can think of themselves as test pilots.

Participating companies will flip the switch at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

"This is going to be like opening night," Lee said. "It's a 24-hour test. We'll turn it off after 24 hours. Most participants will... We think we've covered all our bases."

He added that the participants have been going through "dress rehearsals" and he's confident that most Facebook users won't see any difference in the site's performance Wednesday.

"We've already done some very comprehensive tests and simulations here and we have not had any effects to Facebook users," Lee said. "We've tested users to see what their IPv6 and IPV4 connectivity is. We've been collecting data for many months. We pretty sure that our data is sound."

Lee, who previously worked at Google and Cisco Systems, said a handful of Facebook engineers have been working on updating the company's network so they can run a dual stack, which means running both IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time.

The site will check a user's system, and if it supports IPv6, it will use IPv6 for the first time. Most people don't have IPv6 and will fall back to IPv4.

Lee figures that 0.2% of Facebook's more than 500 million users are capable of using IPv6 at home or at work. That's 1 million users.

He also contends that 99.97% of users will see no difference whatsoever. The other 0.03% can probably expect some slowdowns because of bugs either in their own systems or on the larger networks.

For Facebook, getting ready for Wednesday's test has been in the works for months.

Lee said most of their efforts were focused on the company's software, specifically making code changes. "Most of our costs were having software engineers go through our code," he added. "Where it expected a legacy address to now expect and support an IPv6 address."

He said he didn't know how much the migration cost Facebook.

"The Internet is our business," Lee added. "As far as we can tell, the future of the Internet is important not just to us but to all Internet companies. There aren't really good solutions when you run out of addresses. I believe that IPv6 is the answer to the future of the Internet."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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