Enterprises urged to make IPv6 migration

Networking experts have advised businesses to begin planning now for a move to IPv6, to avoid a future lack of IPv4 addresses hampering growth

The business case for internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) has not been felt keenly by the industry, but the issue will come to a head in two years, according to networking experts, who say companies should begin preparing now.

Paul Wilson, director general of APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Centre), told ZDNet Asia in an interview that the industry has long known of the limitations of IPv4, but has not prioritised spending on upgrading to IPv6.

"The simple business reality, in a highly competitive environment, is that a company will always spend its available resources on profit-making activities. There is no customer demand for IPv6 and, therefore, no immediate, pressing business case," said Wilson.

The issue with the current IPv4 standard is that there is a finite pool of addresses, so the industry will come to a point at which the pool will be exhausted. The migration to IPv6 is one which is expected to cost billions in both hardware and software upgrades.

Wilson, who is a senior executive at the authority responsible for allocating internet address resources in the Asia-Pacific region, said: "Sometimes we hear that the internet industry has been unable to deploy IPv6 for one reason or another."

"The truth is, however, that the industry has decided not to deploy it so far," Wilson said.

APNIC hopes the industry will be catalysed over the next two years to help to make up for lost time and allow for a smoother transition to IPv6, he said.

Philip Smith, consulting engineer at the internet architectures group, office of the CTO at Cisco, told ZDNet Asia that a number of barriers exist for industry implementation of IPv6: the lack of customer demand, few content sites supporting both IPv4 and IPv6, and the costs associated with upgrading hardware, software, processes and training.

"Even after deciding on the migration action, businesses will have to deal with all the issues surrounding the existence of dual protocols within their networks over a short to medium time scale," Smith added.

Planning IPv6 migrations
Smith said internet service providers (ISPs) "who do not have a plan on what to do to carry on growing their businesses after the end of 2010 will be left by the wayside".

"The IPv4 address pool runs out in early 2011. This is a hard fact," he said.

Businesses should be planning their IPv6 deployments now, he said. Businesses which delay this process will be faced with "an increased amount of work they have to do and [the delay] reduces the time they have available to implement IPv6 when they can no longer get IPv4 addresses", Smith noted.

Enterprise networks stand to benefit in the long run with IPv6, the two executives said.

Smith said: "Today's IPv6 deployment drivers focus on operational cost savings, simpler network models when deploying applications, collaboration, service integration and leading innovation."

APNIC's Wilson said the much larger address space IPv6 has over IPv4 will allow businesses to expand their networks much more easily without the use of current workarounds, such as NAT (network address translation) technology.

"The eventual promise is that the IPv6 internet will be cheaper and more efficient at many levels, from the basic infrastructure to the applications that we run on it," he said.

Businesses will be able to stick with IPv4 for a while by means such as reclaiming unused address space or using multiple layer NATs, but these are short-term solutions, Wilson said.

"By giving every electronic or electrical device an IP address and allowing direct communications between them, there is a vast potential for new applications and added value in ways we haven't even imagined yet," he added.

Furthermore, countries need to invest in IPv6 to help seed future innovation, Wilson said. "Failure to adopt IPv6 addressing may directly affect internet innovation and development in the Asia-Pacific region."

"The internet permeates all aspects of the economy, so future economic development relies heavily on getting this right as quickly and effectively as possible," Wilson said.

Nonetheless, the industry is not expected to be able to make a complete migration by 2011, when IPv4's free pools are expected to become exhausted, said Wilson.

"There will be an ongoing demand for IPv4 address space after this time, and those who need it will get it where they can," he said.

To this end, APNIC and other regional internet registrars are working on finding possible transfer mechanisms to reclaim space on a larger scale, Wilson added.

He said: "There is definitely going to be a period of time, probably years, during which IPv4 addresses will still be needed, but will be obtained through a very different framework to that which is in place today."

"On the upside, organisations that move now still have time to plan a dignified migration to IPv6. Those that do plan now can build IPv6 support into normal network-upgrade cycles and training budgets rather than risk a lack of IP address availability hampering their growth in the future," said Wilson.

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