Smoke & mirrors, myths about IPv6

IP addresses have run out, but what does this really mean?

IPv4 addresses are allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which hands blocks of addresses out to Regional Internet Registries (RIR), which in turn provides them to service providers and end user organisations – service providers then give them to their customers.

Recently, the IANA has given out its last block of IPv4 addresses (keep in mind that there are still millions of IPv4 addresses available in the pools at the western RIR (Regional Internet Registries) , so this is not an immediate threat), however, we have passed a significant milestone on the path away from IPv4 and it needs to be made clear that eventually everyone will need to shift away from IPv4 to IPv6 – the issue is; how fast that transition will be and how painful will it be.

How does this affect small to medium sized businesses?

The reality is that it should have almost no immediate impact in 2011. Most businesses use a router that provides Network Address Translation (NAT), capabilities that take a single or limited number of external addresses and creates as many internal addresses as the company needs. Since these companies can create as many internal IPv4 addresses as they need, they can continue to expand their infrastructure as needed.

Looking towards the future, these businesses will need to be able to accommodate external IPv6 addresses. However, during this transition, these businesses can continue to operate internally on IPv4 as they manage their infrastructure to shift to IPv6 – but we wouldn’t recommend it!

Who will the winners and losers be in this migration?

In the short term, service providers will feel the most pain as they need to procure more IPv4 addresses and convert their installed base of modems and networking gear to IPv6 capable gear – It is certainly true that the lack of IPv6 ready or compatible equipment mirrors the lack of understanding with end users over the issues involved.

Even with all of the IPv4 addresses being assigned, only a small fraction are actually in use. It is reported that only 14 percent of issued IPv4 addresses are in use, which leads to the possibility of a market being set up for those who have excess addresses to sell to service providers that need more time to transition to IPv6. Will this create a black market situation? Probably not, as this should only prove to be a stopgap measure to buy time.

The winners in this transition will be those companies that take a forward leaning strategy toward IPv6 implementation, purchasing gear that is both IPv4 and IPv6 capable. Dual-stack products will simplify the transition when the time comes; more importantly, they will enable those companies to select the right time for them to make the change.

What are the opportunities in this transition? The transition from IPv4 to IPv6 does share some similarities to the Y2K bug – companies will need to put in the effort and spend the money to bring their systems up to specification. However, the two differ more than they are similar. The transition to IPv6 is not a potential issue, but a guaranteed reality. We will eventually completely run out of IPv4 addresses – more importantly though, the IPv6 transition is not the ticking time bomb with a hard deadline.

Companies need to start planning and preparing for IPv6, within their CAPEX budgets. They should not focus only on the cost of supporting new Web addresses – instead, they should look at how being IPv6-ready can give them a competitive advantage. The real winners of this change will be those who take advantage of the latest generation of networking gear to improve their efficiency and operational capabilities, giving them an advantage over their slower competitors.

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