When to Adopt IPv6 on Your CDN for Better Delivery

By Bradley Andrews

IPv6 traffic is growing and leading to a number of misconceptions about why and when you should adopt IPv6 on your CDN, so we've addressed four of the most common misconceptions we encounter and our recommendations on the best timing and circumstances under which you should implement IPv6 on your CDN. You may have begun to consider adopting IPv6 on your CDN because you want to improve the speed and reliability of your data delivery. Adopting IPv6 may or may not be the right solution, as it doesn't necessarily mean you'll see delivery improvements. The four of the most common misconceptions we address about IPv6 implemention and IPv6-enabled delivery solutions will help you get a sense of when it might be right for you to adopt IPv6 on your content delivery network.

  1. IPv6 does offer great performance improvements, but really only when enough of your customers are connecting via IPv6 already.

    There have been some reports stating that IPv6 traffic and global internet connection speeds are faster than IPv4. Unfortunately, those reports can be misleading without more context. For instance, LinkedIn is reporting 10 to 40 percent faster traffic for mobile over IPv6. It's true they're seeing faster traffic over IPv6, but it's only true for LinkedIn specifically. TechCrunch republished LinkedIn's observations saying, because of the findings of web giants like Facebook, TechCrunch, and LinkedIn, "IPv4 will be deprecated" in 2017.

    It was an aggressive claim to state that IPv4 would be deprecated in 2017. There are devices currently in use that have no IPv6 capabilities - like some popular streaming and digital media players, certain gaming consoles - and there's no reason to believe we can't support them for at least another ten years.

    Some of our customers serve a high percentage of end-users connecting via IPv6 and we work closely with them to develop custom delivery solutions centered around IPv6. But, the fact is, IPv6 still remains a small percentage of internet traffic, and it's unlikely to have a significant, near-term impact on most content delivery.

    Native: 22.17%   6to4/Teredo: 0.04%   Total IPv6: 22.20%   |   Feb 10, 2018
    IPv6 Adoption Chart

    Growth in the percentage of users accessing Google via IPv6 peaked just before the new year at roughly 4% above
    what the percentage was for the same time the year before. There's no doubt that the traffic is growing but users'
    access via IPv6 still hovers around just 22%.

    The only reason you'd need IPv6 is if your users are disproportionately connected via IPv6 when compared to the population of the internet. If they are largely IPv6, because you have a mobile focus, or a large academic footprint, or are otherwise serving an outsized number of modern connections, you should definitely explore your options for an IPv6 delivery solution.

  2. Apple's developer mandates do not require server side support for IPv6.

    Some technical platforms, like Apple's, give the impression that they require IPv6 end-to-end capabilities, but this definitely is not the case.

    It's not hard to become confused by certain developer language. Many misunderstand Apple's "Supporting IPv6-only Networks" mandate to mean that even the traffic an app pushes must be over IPv6.

    In this thread on the Apple support forum, this issue was addressed and it was made clear that developers do NOT need to update their servers per Apple's mandate.

    While any IPv6 client can downgrade its connection to IPv4, the reverse isn't true. If your server is IPv6 and your client is IPv4, there's still a large likelihood some middle mile of your network connectivity would be IPv4. In this very common scenario, IPv6 support is irrelevant, and server side support is unlikely to be required in the near future.

    Apple supports server side IPv4 as documented here.

  3. Parity is not necessarily ensured with IPv6 in a multi-CDN solution.

    Many of our customers rely on a multi-CDN solution and understandably believe parity can be achieved between their StackPath CDN solution and their other CDN with IPv6. However, parity isn't necessarily dependent on whether IPv6 is enabled on each CDN.

    In a multi-vendor environment, you might think that having IPv6 parity is important to ensure the best and most stable performance when load balancing between CDNs. This isn't necessarily the case, though, since the availability and quality of routes and peering connections have a much greater influence on how performant your traffic is regardless of protocol.

  4. Available traffic routes for IPv6 still receive less investment than those of IPv4.

    IPv6 is an emerging technology and is a very hot topic right now in the world of content and data delivery. Broadly speaking, many believe server side support for IPV6 will improve the efficiency of their traffic in general, but this is hardly the case.

    While there may be some small advantage to IPv6 in the apples to apples case where you're comparing IPv4 and IPv6 over the same exact distance, on the same hardware, with the same number of hops, that's a rare and contrived example.

    The reality is that IPv6 available routes are different from IPv4 available routes, and generally receive less attention and investment. This means IPv6 is more likely to perform comparably to IPv4 than actually show an improvement.

    In terms of observable performance improvements you might see in broadly adopting IPv6 across a network, you'd see a performance improvement of only 25ms on an operation that occurs every 10 minutes.

    So, there is a small performance benefit to using IPv6 in accordance with the RFC's "happy eyeballs" proposed algorithm for selecting IPv6 vs IPv4 connectivity in a dual-stack environment. Because an IPv6 SYN should be attempted first, initial connection to a server takes on average about 25ms more over IPv4. This connection method should be cached for about 10 minutes, so you'd theoretically gain 25 milliseconds out of every 600,000ms by using IPv6 servers if your users are around for more than a few minutes.

    By no means is this a considerable improvement, but then again, seeing real improvements with IPv6 requires a deeper understanding of who your customers are and how they're getting to your content.

Keep exploring your IPv6 adoption options. We're here to help you.
If you're exploring IPv6, keep going. You shouldn't stop. Support for IPv6 has been ramping up greatly in recent years and it's truly the future of the internet. While support for IPv6 continues to increase, chances are you'll want to hold off on pushing all your traffic over the emerging protocol. It's still going to be quite some time before IPv6 offers a significant improvement for most content delivery solutions. However, understanding the internet's adoption of IPv6 and knowing what the benefits and disadvantages of adopting the protocol will help you make the best decision for your business' needs in the future.

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