Given how close we are to exhausting the supply of IPv4 addresses, it is incomprehensible that so many businesses are still not preparing for the transition to IPv6, says Axel Pawlik.
It has been estimated that before the end of 2011, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (Iana), the organisation responsible for the top-level distribution of IP addresses, will hand out the last unallocated IPv4 addresses to the five regional internet registries (RIRs).
A European Commission survey, conducted in co-operation with the membership base of Ripe NCC, the RIR that supports the infrastructure of the internet in Europe, Middle East and parts of central Asia, found only 17 percent of businesses in its region have plans for IPv6 adoption.
Even ISPs seem to have their heads in the sand, as 92 percent have reported insignificant IPv6 traffic, or have no IPv6 in use at all.
Threat to development
Moreover, it seems Europe is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to IPv6 deployment. Only 30 percent of EU organisations polled were concerned by the implications of IPv4 depletion, while almost half — 48 percent — of organisations polled outside the EU recognised that the shortage of IPv4 addresses poses a threat for internet development.
The lack of urgency among European organisations in adopting IPv6 could leave the region behind the rest of the world when it comes to internet development, hampering its ability to compete in the global market.
The internet community has been aware of IPv4 depletion for more than a decade. Recognising that a new protocol was required to meet future demand, the technical community developed IPv6, the next-generation of IP addresses, in the mid-1990s.
Unlike IPv4 addresses, whose 32-bit format provides 4,294,967,296 unique addresses, IPv6 has a longer format, allowing for a total of roughly a trillion trillion trillion addresses — enough to meet the demands of continuing internet development and innovation.
The 128-bit IPv6 addresses are not backward-compatible, so routers and other hardware, as well as network management software running on the 32-bit IPv4, will not be able to recognise IPv6 traffic.
Those circumstances mean that if your content and services are available only over IPv4, a partner, potential customer or other key stakeholder using IPv6 will not even be able to access your website. To overcome this issue, there is every likelihood organisations will need to 'dual-stack' — deploy IPv6 and run it alongside IPv4 — to ensure ubiquitous access.
While many IT directors and technology decision-makers are up to speed on the IP-address depletion issues and what might be done to overcome these challenges, there is very little understanding among more general senior management and board executives.
It is vital that a wider swathe of management understands the issues now. If they leave it too late to come to terms with the threat to this critical resource, the inevitable result will be knee-jerk decision-making.
Some businesses see delaying IPv6 deployment as a sound cost-cutting strategy, but that position is shortsighted. The available pool of IPv4 address space is quickly approaching the final 10 percent, and it is clear that the internet-wide adoption of IPv6 is inevitable.
No matter what sector you operate in, delaying investment in IPv6 will probably result in greater spending down the road, with last-minute deployment and poor planning leading to increased costs.
Global internet economy
IPv6 adoption is not only a means for individual organisations to safeguard connectivity, communication and commerce now and in the years to come — it is essential for the development of the global internet economy.
If businesses fail to adopt IPv6 on time, socio-economic growth could stall because the internet will be unable to sustain a growing amount of devices and users connecting to the network, who in turn could become digitally excluded.
The uptake of IPv6 addresses has so far been slow, but it is paramount that ISPs, governments and private-sector organisations make accelerated adoption a priority. After all, the internet is mission-critical for all organisations and a fundamental utility for the globally connected community.
Axel Pawlik is managing director of the Ripe NCC, an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports the infrastructure of the internet for Europe, the Middle East and parts of central Asia. While at the University of Dortmund, Pawlik contributed to the establishment of Unix networking as a publicly available service in Germany. He also founded EUnet Deutschland GmbH, developing it into one of the strongest EUnet networks in Europe.