The coming transition to IPv6 is creating plenty of hype and a lot of discussion among vendors, channel partners and their enterprise customers, especially as World IPv6 Day takes place Wednesday.
But overall, enterprise interest in IPv6 has been sluggish, and few solution providers are reaping big upgrade and services rewards such a major IT transition would seem to warrant. The opportunity is there, VARs and integrators say, it's just slow to develop, and the vast majority of customers are taking a wait-and-see approach to IPv6 infrastructure upgrades.
"It's just not a primary focus at this point," said Greg Stemberger, principal network engineer at Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based solution provider. "A lot of people are in the exploratory stage, and some are saying, 'Maybe let's look at setting up a pilot or a lab environment and look at it further.' I expect it to pick up more."
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Stemberger's assessment was in line with the opinions of a number of solution providers, vendor representatives and IPv6 experts interviewed by CRN over the past few weeks. While service providers began the delicate transition to IPv6 some time ago, and government customers are in many cases mandated to do so, most enterprise and midsized businesses are just beginning to scratch the service -- creating a nascent, if not yet fully defined opportunity for the channel.
The move to IPv6, or Internet Protocol Version 6, has been forecast for decades, and work by researchers on how to make the transition successful has been going on almost as long.
In a nutshell, the problem is scarcity. IPv4 has been the standard for formatting Internet addresses since 1981, but the IPv4 format enables 32-bit Internet addresses, meaning that there is a limit on the supply of IPv4 addresses for addressable devices -- approximately 4.3 billion -- that is fast approaching. IPv4 address exhaustion technically happened already; the last blocks of IPv4 addresses were allocated to the world's Regional Internet Registries (RIR) in early February, and the Asia Pacific Network Information Center released the last addresses available in its pool in April.
The move to IPv6 -- addresses that are eight sets of four-digit hexadecimal numbers -- means preserving the IP address future, because the 128-bit address format yields enough theoretical addresses that exhaustion won't be an issue.
Many service providers have had a transition plan in place for some time, but IPv6 urgency is just beginning to creep into the enterprise, and according to a recent survey from Infoblox, enterprises by and large aren't anywhere near ready for the transition.
The survey, which drew on responses from 2,400 enterprise IT managers, found that 80 percent of respondents didn't feel educated enough to tackle an IPv6 migration element, and half didn't know which of their network elements supported IPv6 at present. That's similar to a number of industry surveys making the rounds in recent weeks. An analysis by Ipswitch Inc., which polled 600 respondents from its network management division, suggested that 88 percent of businesses were not fully ready for the change, with more than two thirds saying their networks were less than 20 percent ready for the changeover.
The Infoblox survey also found that 41 percent of respondents still track IP addresses manually using spreadsheets, and 70 percent are concerned about performing a successful IPv6 deployment. Most respondents, according to Infoblox, would describe themselves as being in the "learning" stage when it comes to IPv6, and only 24 percent have dedicated resources to manage the migration from IPv4 to IPv6.
"It seems to me that there is a real opportunity for the channel to advise customers on what to do, because there is a lot of uncertainty," said Cricket Liu, vice president of architecture and technology at Infoblox and a regular speaker and consultant on IPv6 topics. "People aren't really sure what to make of all the press coverage, and there is a certain amount of it that's hype. But it is difficult for these companies to separate the wheat from the chaff and understand what they need to do today."
Liu said that solution providers who educate themselves and add IPv6 assessment to their professional services offerings will benefit, even if their enterprise customers aren't yet actively making upgrades.
"People are asking for help, at least, and they are asking, who should I approach about this," Liu said. "The interest has gone up, I would say tenfold, in the past year. We don't see an RFP for our gear at the moment that doesn't include functional requirements around IPv6."
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