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Amazon Web Services has implemented IPv6 support in virtual private clouds running under its basic computing service (Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2) in 15 regions, a move that promotes the wider use of that more secure and more accommodating standard.

“You can now build and deploy applications that can use IPv6 addresses to communicate with servers, object storage, load balancers, and content-distribution services,” AWS evangelist Jeff Barr said in a blog post. “Your mobile applications can now make use of IPv6 addresses when they communicate with AWS.”

IPv4, the 1981 scheme for numbering internet-connected devices — such as PCs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems and even light bulbs and sensors that are part of the internet of things — never envisioned the growth that the internet has enjoyed. IPv4 offers “only” 4.3 billion addresses. That seems pretty large, but when it comes to giving a unique identifier to each device connected to the internet, it’s feared to be too small.

That’s just one reason why, about 20 years ago, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) came up with IPv6. Unlike IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses. That makes it capable of offering 340 undecillion addresses — 340 times 10 to the 36th power, or 340 trillion trillion trillion possible IP addresses. The first IPv6 addresses were used in 2008, and their use has been slowly growing over time.

More unique addresses isn’t the only reason IPv6 is a good idea. Networks that use it are more easily administered. It includes IPSec, an IETF standard suite of protocols that provides data authentication, integrity, and confidentiality as data is transferred between communication points on IP networks. And the unique address needed for routing on the internet can be self-generated by the hardware-specific address a device was given when it was made, another security improvement.

AWS virtual private clouds are logically isolated networks containing EC2 instances and other resources. Those networks can connect to the “outside world” internet through a gateway. The thing is, IPv6 isn’t backwards-compatible with IPv4, meaning IPv6-based devices and networks can’t communicate with their IPv4 counterparts. So AWS’s IPv6-based traffic must be routed separately from IPv4-based traffic.

AWS also offers IPv6 support in CloudFront, its web-content delivery service; in Route 53, which handles DNS queries; in messages exchanged between devices and the AWS IoT service; in S3 storage buckets; and in Elastic Load Balancers.

Microsoft Azure, AWS’s chief competitor, has supported IPv6 in its virtual machines since September in all but five regions. Its internet-facing load balancers can be used with an IPv6 address, allowing IPv6 connectivity between public-internet clients and Azure virtual machines through the load balancer, and permitting IPv6 outbound connectivity between VMs and public-Internet IPv6-enabled clients. 

“We realize load-balanced Internet connectivity is just the first step . . . and support for more scenarios is under development,” wrote Azure’s networking IPv6 feature team in a November online exchange with users.

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