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IPv6 economics: The cost of avoiding it may be getting worse

The recent ‘512K Day’ outages online could be a harbinger of what’s to come if we stay on IPv4 too long

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IPv6 512K Day

It’s become a standard joke in so many offices. Whenever someone can’t get online, they point to a coworker and say, “Hey, did you break the Internet again?”

But a few weeks ago the Internet really did seem broken. On August 12, outages hit sites like eBay and LastPass as well as service providers British Telecom, Time-Warner, AT&T and Shaw here in Canada. ‘The Internet goes up in flames,’ one headline declared.

Many experts blamed IPv4. Older routers built for IPv4 only have enough memory to handle up to 512K of Internet routes. On August 12, the 512K mark was surpassed for the first time ever.

This recent day of Internet slowdowns and shutdowns shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. Cisco warned of potential 512K chaos on May 12. A week later the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) warned that the world is quickly running out of IPv4 addresses. Its solution: IPv6, configured to route traffic easier and accommodate trillions of addresses.

“Redistributing increasingly small blocks of IPv4 address space is not a sustainable way to grow the Internet,” ICANN’s operational excellence manager Leo Vegoda told ZDNet. “IPv6 deployment is a requirement for any network that needs to survive.”

In June, Microsoft said it was forced to dip into its pool of IPv4 addresses in other parts of the world because it didn’t have enough U.S.-based ones to keep Azure cloud service going.

After all these warnings and close calls, why are we all crying wolf at the eleventh hour? Why is the global adoption rate for IPv6 still a measly four per cent?

Part of the answer is technical. Since there are workaround ways to push IPv4 to its limits (or run it with IPv6 on dual-stack systems), many enterprise users haven’t felt the situation was urgent enough to move to IPv6.

Part of the answer may be financial, too. Today, David Willis is Gartner’s chief of research for mobility and communications. But five years ago, when he was a VP in Gartner’s communications group, he downplayed the need to move to IPv6.

“Given all you have to invest in, IPv6 is far down the list,” Willis told NetworkWorld at the 2009 Gartner Syposium ITExpo. “The economies of moving to IPv6 aren’t working out for people,” he added, referring to the global financial downturn playing out at the time.

In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – especially if you can’t afford to, in light of all the other IT priorities on your list.

Back in 2009, Willis had a valid point. Juggling cloud and mobile deployment along with new security threats amid tight budgets, enterprise IT managers had far bigger fish to fry than IPv6.

Just two years later in 2011, Gartner issued a forecast predicting 17 per cent of the Internet would be using IPv6 by the end of 2015. Eyeing the current rate of four per cent, that’s looking mighty bullish at the moment.


Judging by the warnings and outages now hitting us in 2014, IPv4 is finally running out of steam. How could it even cope with the Internet of Things? It’s time to make room for IPv6. If you take your network seriously, that’s no office joke.

photo credit: n3pb via photopin cc

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