From 2013 to the start of 2014, the tone of reportage on the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 shifted from expectant to incredulous. Some 20 months ago, networking experts and web watchers seemed sure that many companies would start to use IPv6 soon. But that didn’t happen—and now, no one seems to know what will kick-start the migration.
For background, read our April 7, 2014 post to see a quick video, courtesy of computer engineer Antonio Marcos Moreira, summarizing why it’s important for organizations to make this move. To recap: for years, IPv4 offered enough IP addresses to accommodate all the people and devices sending and receiving information over the Internet. But we’re running out of IPv4 addresses. IPv6 offers longer addresses, so more individuals and items will be able to connect online. Unless they switch to IPv6, companies and users will have trouble sharing and accessing services and information on the web.
We’ve already seen at least one instance in which IPv4 difficulties brought web communication to a halt. In August 2014, we reported that companies including eBay and British Telecom experienced outages because, for the first time in history, Internet traffic exceeded 512,000 routes, which is a common limit on many routers.
The affected companies worked around the problem as pundits predicted that the incident would finally convince laggards to employ IPv6. But despite the disaster, IPv6 implementation is still slow. According to Google’s ongoing analysis, just about five percent of the web traffic traversing the company’s systems these days has IPv6 addresses.
Dave Pearson is the research manager of enterprise storage and networking at technology scrutinizer IDC Canada. He sees a “chicken and egg” situation stymying IPv6 adoption. On one hand, some network service providers are reluctant to upgrade because end-user organizations aren’t asking them to support IPv6. On the other hand, many organizations aren’t upgrading because they say service providers don’t support IPv6, so why bother?
“Without an outright failure of the existing IPv4 standard or demonstrable business case for IPv6, Canadian organizations are slow to adopt this new technology,” Pearson says by phone. “The availability of IPv4 address space declines day by day, and that lack of availability for new services and enterprises may be what finally forces us to change.”
He wouldn’t go so far as to suggest 2015 would see a rush of organizations moving to IPv6. “We thought 2014 would be the tipping point year,” he says. But it wasn’t, so it’s tough to tell if 2015 will be.
Sean Michael Kerner at tech media outlet Enterprise Networking Planet seems pessimistic. “The simple truth is that while IPv6 is widely supported on consumer operating systems, it is not widely supported within IT organizations,” he wrote in a recent article. “IPv4 address space and the ability of network address translation (NAT) will likely continue to enable organizations to avoid IPv6 in 2015.”
Mike Palladino, director of IP infrastructure and operations at Internap, writes that it’s not easy to make the switch, which requires training, and expensive new hardware and network management tools. What’s more, some networking companies have started acting as brokers for IPv4 addresses, offering another way for organizations to keep using the old system. Palladino sums up thus: “Squeezing blood from the IPv4 stone is easier than making large design changes.”
The move to IPv6 hasn’t ground to a complete halt. Canada’s federal government plans to have all its computer systems using IPv6 by March of this year. And Techworld reports that the next version of the low power, near-field wireless networking technology, Bluetooth 4.2, will support IPv6.
What should you and your end users be doing to prepare for the shift? In his IPv6 video (referenced above), Moreira offers two practical suggestions: first, when shopping for new software, smartphones and other equipment, buy only IPv6-ready products. Second, check with your favourite online services. If they’re not IPv6 ready, look into alternatives. Even if IPv4 has proven viable for longer than expected, eventually its users will find themselves stranded without the web.