The tech world's abuzz about IPv6, and for the IT channel, the transition to IPv6 undoubtedly means opportunity. But the level of that opportunity -- as well as the level of urgency -- is what's up for debate among IPv6 observers, solution providers and any vendor with a stake in enabling the IPv6-led infrastructure of the future.
"The dialogue has increased dramatically and the big thing right now is fact-finding," said Don Edwards, managing director of The Broadleaf Group, a Houston-based solution provider. "The other thing pushing it is the onslaught of mobile devices: how to secure these mobile devices and how IPv6 will be taken into mobility. It's still in the early stages of discussion."
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"Without a doubt, it's time for integrators and resellers to be looking at the issue," said Vince Ricco, senior network consultant at IP networking vendor Allied Telesis. "It's a good opportunity to be value-add to customers by looking at a migrational transition and advising on how they need to prepare, making sure they know what's available."
IPv6 is a story as lengthy and layered as any other in IT, but the short version of why of the IPv6 transition is happening is a matter of supply and demand. Internet Protocol Version Four (IPv4) has been the standard for formatting Internet addresses since its adoption in 1981, but its format enables 32-bit addresses. Therefore, there's a limit to the supply of IPv4 addresses for addressable devices -- nearly 4.3 billion -- and thanks to astronomical growth in Internet-connected devices over the past decade, that limit is fast approaching.
Technically, IPv4 address exhaustion has already happened: the last blocks of IPv4 addresses were allocated to the world's Regional Internet Registries (RIR) in early February. And in mid-April, the Asia Pacific Network Information Center released the last block of IPv4 addresses in its available pool, meaning that, effectively, the Asia Pacific region has run out of IPv4 addresses.
Structurally speaking, IPv4 addresses are four sets of numbers ranging from 0 to 255, separated by periods, whereas IPv6 addresses are eight sets of four-digit hexadecimal numbers -- a 128-bit address format that yields enough theoretical addresses that exhaustion will never be a problem.
Solution providers interviewed by CRN said that urgency around the IPv6 transition is much greater among service providers than enterprise business customers. Most service providers have had IPv6 transition plans in place for many years: they see obvious ROI in making the transition because of customer demand and their ability to create new revenue streams around IPv6 address availability, especially with the exploding demand for mobile applications.
But heightened urgency around the transition at a macro level is creating a number of ripple effects. One is the frenzy to purchase IPv4 blocks in bulk where they can be had. Microsoft, for example, offered Nortel $7.5 million for more than 666,000 IPv4 addresses at the end of March. And also emerging are grey and black markets for IPv4 address resale -- the site tradeipv4.com is one such block exchange.
Look for more of those types of trends in the short term, said Jon McCarrick, product marketing manager for virtualization software vendor Parallels.
"I think in the next 12 months we're talking about gray markets and some major providers just hanging on to IPv4 addresses," he said. "There is a certain amount of recycling that goes on, in that companies say, 'It's probably best for me to turn off some of these services and addresses I haven't used for for a while.'"
Another ripple effect is the move by many technology companies to spotlight the issues around IPv6. Google, for example, has been providing data on the availability of IPv6 connectivity among Google users since September 2008. According to the most recent update, Google's graph shows that only about 0.3 percent of Google visitors would be able to access an IPv6 version of Google search at present.
Much is being done at a general awareness level, too. The Internet Society will be staging World IPv6 Day in June, in which a range of participating technology companies -- from Akamai, Cisco and Facebook to Google, Microsoft, Limelight Networks and Juniper -- will be enabling IPv6 on their networks for 24 hours, as a test.
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