Crossing the great divide: Migrating to IPv6

In an increasingly IP-based communications world, no provider wants to hear that the supply of IP addresses has almost dried up, and that current workarounds to the issue will give them only months at best before real problems with content and services delivery begin to crop up. But that's the reality of the IPv4 addressing protocol, and it's not going away.

That's why migrating to the newer IPv6 protocol is not just an option, it's a necessity. The U.S. federal government, in fact, has mandated that its agencies begin planning for a shift to the new protocol as soon as possible. But while major providers are already moving into position to provide dual levels of connectivity with IPv4/IPv6 coexistence, many other enterprises and service providers are falling behind the migration curve.

Owen DeLong, Hurricane Electric's IPv6 Evangelist and a member of the advisory board for ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers), is spending a lot of time these days talking with providers and IT executives about making the shift to IPv6. He's found that lack of knowledge, complexity, and cost are holding many companies back from migration--issues that other companies spearheading IPv6 transition have also found to be the case.

DeLong, who spoke with FierceTelecom in late December, has championed the cause of IPv6 for more than a decade, but he doesn't feel that the industry is ready for IPv4 depletion.

"...any corporation or enterprise that doesn't have at least their public facing content and services v6 ready by the end of this year is probably going to be facing a degraded user experience for some fraction of their users" - Owen DeLong

"The IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) free pool, as you may already know, is down to seven what we call slash-8s, which are large blocks of addresses that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority delegates to the regional internet registries," he explains. "IANA is likely going to run out either later this month (Dec. 2010) or very early next month (Jan. 2011). When that happens, the regional internet registries will have received their last IPv4 allocations from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and they will be consuming what's left in their free pool. Once that's gone, that's true runout. I expect most of the regional registries to be able to coast for somewhere between six and nine months, but that could change depending on how demand escalates in other things."

DeLong sees problems with the IPv4 addressing system cropping up later this year. "Assuming that they're able to coast for six to nine months, you'll start seeing the first residential customers that can't get IPv4 addresses probably somewhere around the end of 2011. So any corporation or enterprise that doesn't have at least their public facing content and services v6 ready by the end of this year is probably going to be facing a degraded user experience for some fraction of their users which will be monotonically increasing, and thus they may be at a competitive disadvantage to other enterprises that have actually implemented v6 by that time."

It's clear to anyone involved in IT that IPv6 migration must happen, but companies already hampered by a stuttering economy aren't necessarily interested in the investment needed and many haven't even started planning the shift. That's not a good thing, according to DeLong.

"If they aren't already planning, they're already behind the curve," he says.

Read more on