With Internet addresses running out under the current IPv4 protocol, the Net must move to IPv6. How should your business approach this transition? The first step is to understand why the move is taking place.
Since the late 1970s, the 32-bit Internet Protocol version 4 has produced more than four billion addresses - for example, 188.8.131.52. Each numeric Internet address is tied to a unique URL (Universal Resource Locator) name that is more conducive to human users. In the pre-web days, four billion-plus addresses seemed like a nearly infinite resource. Today... not so much.
The boom in web sites, mobile devices, RFID tags, and the coming needs for smart grids, intelligent appliances, and other technologies mean that IPv4's once-huge address space could reach its endpoint within the next two or three years.
According to John Curran, president and CEO of the nonprofit American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), only about six percent of the addresses in IPv4 are still available. Some countries are projecting that their supply of addresses could run out within two years or less. India, for example, is mandating that all Internet service providers must offer only IPv6 service by March 2012.
Although the 21st Century's appetite for Net addresses keeps growing, the newer 128-bit IPv6 should satisfy even the most expansive projections for technological growth. Dave Evans, Cisco Systems' chief technologist in its Internet business solutions group, projects that IPv6 will allow an astounding "50 thousand trillion trillion addresses per person" on the planet. The new protocol, which was first approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1998, also offers major improvements in security, network auto-configuration, handling of mobile networks, and other areas.
Some industry observers predict that IPv6 will also help smaller businesses obtain the kinds of performance standards for virtual private networks, unified communication services, and VoIP phone service that larger organizations now enjoy.
Assessment, Migration Plan
In the US, the transition is expected to occur over the next two to three years. Current Analysis' Glenn Hunt said most major vendors, such as ISPs and equipment providers, have been working to become IPv6-compliant.
To get ready, businesses need to assess their resources and prepare a migration plan, Hunt said. The review and planning should cover their ISPs, telecommunication carriers, internal equipment, operating systems, infrastructure systems, internal applications, and cloud-based computing infrastructure and applications.
Some observers have recommended that businesses distinguish between equipment and software that can handle IPv6 on a transitional basis, and those that have built-in IPv6 compliance. Some equipment and software, for instance, can provide "dual stack" protocols that work with both IPs, which might be fine in the short term but not in the long run.
Cindy Whelan, also an analyst at Current Analysis, pointed out that many carriers and other telecommunications suppliers in the US have not yet completed the effort to convert "a lot of their applications into being IPv6-compliant."
She said the bulk of the migration will take place through 2012, but businesses would be smart to take a look at their internal needs while carriers become compliant. Although enterprises have been slow to make the move, she added, "it's not yet a crisis" in the U.S., making this a good time to get started with evaluating and negotiating purchases carefully.