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IPv6 (and this time we mean it)

The backbone of the Internet is straining. And we’re running out of time.


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Internet Protocol (IP) is how we connect to anyone and anything on the Internet. Every participating device, application, or service has a distinct address – a way to identify itself and communicate with other devices, applications and services. Today’s IP standard, IPv4, dates back to the 1970s. It allowed for 4.3 billion unique IP addresses, which was more than sufficient to meet the computing demands of the time.

But we’re approaching a breaking point, fueled by growth of mobile adoption, increased pace of public cloud adoption and the explosion of new end points with Internet connectivity via embedded sensors on physical objects. This will likely force enterprises that work with customers and business partners via the public Internet to move to version 6 as their primary communication method in the next two or three years.

This is a daunting task for which action should not be deferred much longer. IPv4’s sunset is no longer a question of if, but of how soon. Telecommunications, hardware and systems software providers, and content providers have been leading the way – ahead of customer and enterprise demand. Organizations should follow suit promptly. This time, we really mean it.

My Take
Hear John Curran, President and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), describe first-hand his perspective on the impact of IPv6 (and this time we mean it).


Watch video

Bruce Short, director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, offers his perspective on the importance of the industry transition to Internet Protocol 6, and the far-reaching implications of this new protocol on the technology landscape.


Read more about IPv6

Where do you start?

With business strategies inseparable from technology, it’s hard to find a company that is not highly dependent on its network. This makes IPv6 a broad issue. Each company and agency will likely have its own timeline and path forward, but general leading practices have evolved: a discovery effort of enterprise assets; planning and executing remediation; testing; research into regional, national and industry constraints and compliance concerns; assessment of deployment options against business strategy; planning and road-mapping; and executing an iterative risk-managed roll-out. And there’s more.

  • Timing. A first question is “when do you start?” While many CIOs understand the looming reality of IPv6, there has not been a burning platform or hard deadline to drive action, especially as the need has lingered for decades and workarounds have been effective. Here are some of the common reasons that may spark action: expansion into geographies with depleted public address registries. Uptick in enterprise assets relying on 4G connectivity (which is based on IPv6). Growth in sensor and embedded connectivity initiatives across manufacturing and the extended supply chain. Tight interactions with governmental bodies, many of which are being mandated to adopt.

    Even without a clear forcing function, Gartner estimates that by 2015, 17% of global Internet users will use IPv6, with 28% of new Internet connections running the protocol1 . Eventually you’ll likely be forced to migrate if you want to maintain communication with your customers and business partners.

    As mentioned above, many of your IT assets will in some way be affected – making the move a potentially high risk to core business operations. By starting now, you should have enough lead-time for the deliberate, phased roll-out described above. Waiting could lead to a costly, risky fire drill.
  • Front door. Regardless of overall timing, the first step should be to establish an IPv6 Internet presence for public-facing marketing, sales and support utilities. The DMZ is a good place to start and firewalls, intrusion protection devices, load balancing devices and management tools should be addressed. Gartner identifies three choices that enterprises have to implement IPv6 support in their public Internet services: (1) upgrade all Internet-facing systems to support IPv6; (2) upgrade only front-end devices and deploy IPv6-to-IPv4 protocol gateways; or (3) build a separate, IPv6-only, Internet presence2 . Evaluate this targeted adoption to gauge readiness of your network operations, application operations and security teams to handle a broader migration.
  • Business case. It may be tempting to relegate IPv6 to a plumbing play. To be fair, users won’t likely see an immediate and tangible difference in their lives. Unlike mobile, social, or analytics adoption, much of the impact is behind the scenes. Yet, effective migration can help protect critical infrastructure on which the business is dependent. Network management and routing efficiencies can also be expected. In addition, the protocol can natively handle certain security procedures, allowing individual security services such as IPsec to be phased out – though only when IPv4 has been completely retired. Explore these cost and management efficiencies to create a business case that is more compelling than fear, uncertainty and doubt. Or bundle the infrastructure readiness with a broader mobile enablement or digital backbone effort – balancing the allure of new business capabilities and technology-based innovation with the critical (but perhaps uninspiring) infrastructure retooling.

Bottom line

As connected computing has become a ubiquitous part of business and leisure, part of the Internet foundation is faltering. Internet Protocol has become a universal address scheme for networking, but we’ve run out of new addressable space. With the explosion of mobile devices – especially with asset intelligence and machine-to-machine embedded connectivity in literally everything – unique IP addresses are becoming a scarce resource. The implications are many. Constraints on innovation, unwieldy network management and security concerns, such as the deployment of v6/v4 bridges in Asia that strip identity and allow for true anonymity. The IPv6 standard has existed for decades, but we’re at a point of finally having to take the issue seriously.

IPv6 is a bit like Y2K – with an ironic twist. A looming-but-unknown deadline, but where the repercussions of no action are precise and potentially catastrophic. Each piece of the migration is manageable. It’s the scope that is complex, as every piece of your IT footprint is potentially affected.

Organizations that start now will likely have time to take a measured approach, limiting risk without dominating the entire IT agenda. Those that wait may be forced to scramble – or get left unconnected.

1 Gartner, Inc., "Internet Protocol Version 6: It's Time for (Limited) Action,” Neil Rickard, originally published December 8, 2010; updated May 24, 2012.
2 Gartner, Inc., "How to Upgrade Internet Connectivity With IPv6, While Keeping IPv4," Bjarne Munch and Neil Rickard, June 27, 2012.  


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