IPv6 migration: Are we there yet?

IPv6, at least for U.S.-based carriers and Internet consumers (businesses and residential users), has been a far-off concern since the early 1990s when the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and other organizations started developing the protocol.

That's probably because while IPv6 has already been built into various desktop operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac OS, etc) as far back as the year 2000, no one really had a need for it. John Curran, President and CEO of American Registry of Numbers (ARIN), which manages Internet number resources in North America, said the industry was actually a bit over prepared.

"The IETF started work on IPv6 in 1993 and it was in 1999 that it was production ready and was put into server and desktop operating systems," said Curran. "In the early 2000s a lot of people were looking at this and saying 'wow, this is neat and new but no one had a reason to deploy it."

But now as a PR representative described in a pitch to me about her client: if "Y2K was technology's ticking time bomb, then IPv6 is a slow, deadly gas leak."

That deadly gas leak is now becoming an issue since in about a year and a half there will be no more IPv4 addresses left. According to the Number Resource Organization (NRO), less than 10 percent of available IPv4 addresses remain unallocated, meaning that IPv4 exhaust is becoming more of an imminent problem.

Despite this newfound sense of urgency to take action, Verizon's ICSA Labs says that nearly half of the vendors that sell IT gear aren't IPv6 compliant. Even more disturbing is that businesses have made the IPv6 transition even less of an issue.

Unlike other countries that have made IPv6 transition a regulatory mandate, the U.S. is taking a market-driven approach. What's more, the ongoing evolution of services mean that prior to the address exhaust issue came really to the floor service providers likely did not want to turn on IPv6 elements that would become obsolete.

That's not to say that the service provider community has not been making progress on the IPv6 front. Following Comcast and search engine giant Google, Verizon Communications recently began an IPv6 trial for its FiOS customers in its Reston, Va. market.

And while IPv4 exhaust is an issue, Verizon sees opportunity for the service provider and vendor community to educate and help businesses, educational institutions and residential users versus just simply solving an address problem.

"There are service opportunities when you go to v6," Jean McManus, executive director, packet network technology for Verizon, said. "Because you get rid of NAT in the CPE all of a sudden there are a number of different services that are feasible with v6 that with v4 you may have had issues with."

Just as a quick note, Verizon is not an IPv6 novice. Not only has its brother Verizon Wireless mandated that IPv6 be part of its LTE 4G deployments, Verizon Business has been delivering IPv6 services to the public sector under its VBNS brand. And while Verizon and other service providers have put IPv6 as a requirement into their respective service provider peers, the challenge is the constant evolution of new services.

If and when Verizon turns its residential market IPv6 trial into a deployment it's going to take education for the customer base and establishing a set of best practices to get customers online. Given that most consumers aren't exactly tech savvy, they will expect if they call up with a problem that someone will be there to resolve it for them.

"There's going to be a whole cycle moving forward that we need to understand how the upgrade works and our tech support can handle it if they get a call," McManus said. "We're working internally to get to a target architecture that's v6-based and then how to manage how to do those transitions in a way that hopefully isn't going to impact our customers in terms of downtime and confusion."

No less important will be business clients who rely on the web. Large and even SMB customers will also need similar consultation and support. In order to pave a successful road for the ongoing migration to IPv6, the mentality should not be a question of 'are we ready yet', but rather one that says 'how can we make this transition as painless as possible?' --Sean