Extending the Digital Transformation of the Economy with IPv6

In case you missed it, there is a digital transformation of the economy underway and IT plays a central part. BottomlineIT first talked about this digital transformation earlier this year. The Internet of things is part of it, but it goes much further. You can see it with the proliferation of digital capabilities in just about everything you do—in your new car, in appliances you buy, in the instrumenting of business processes of all types.

Behind this digital transformation is the Internet, which is the medium across and through all these digital bits travel. Ultimately every item, everything with an RFID tag, every smartphone, anything needing Internet access will need an IP address. And as the Internet currently is configured, it is running out of IP addresses. That’s the problem Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) addresses.

A survey of U.S. technology and business decision makers by IT industry association CompTIA  found 31% of respondents believe the transition to will be mostly smooth. BottomlineIT agrees mainly because for a while at least, the big Internet providers will use masking and address translation techniques to cover up the issue. But at some point, companies will have to incorporate IPv6 when they upgrade their communications equipment.

Jeff Doyle, president of Jeff Doyle and Associates, explains the problem like this: “When the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the top-level address management agency, allocated the last of its address pool to the five worldwide Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) on February 3, the clock started ticking in earnest. We expect the RIRs to use up those last addresses by late summer. So what then?”

Well, for one thing the Internet is NOT going to come to a crashing halt. As noted above, there are techniques that the big Internet providers can use to fudge the problem for a while. The sky is not falling.

Still, if the Internet is important to your business you will need a plan to deal with this issue at some point. That plan simply may be a budget allocation to replace your current networking and communication equipment with IPv6-capable equipment sooner rather than later. If the Internet is critical to your business, an in-depth risk analysis also might be undertaken.

Ultimately, you will have to upgrade your networking and communications systems for IPv6, but you may not have to lift a finger. As you buy new network equipment in the course of a normal technology refresh, the vendors will have made the upgrade for you and built it in. Cisco has been leading the charge on this, but the other vendors are following right along. Equipment for the small office/home office (SOHO) market appears slower to follow but these vendors too will incorporate IPv6 in their products.

In terms of applications, Microsoft has incorporated IPv6 support into its Windows stack for releases from Vista on.  But again, other vendors are following right along. A partial list of IPv6-compliant applications can be found here.

How big a change is IPv6? Let’s look at the numbers: Compared to IPv4, the current standard that supports 232(4,294,967,296) unique addresses, IPv6 supports 2128 (approximately 340 Undecillion) addresses. That’s eight orders of magnitude greater than trillion. It’s tempting to say that society will never use that many addresses, but given the Internet of Things, who knows? IPv6 also provides new technical features revolving around assigning and managing Internet addresses.

There will be different IPv6 transition strategies, according to CompTIA, depending on the priorities, needs, and capabilities of each organization. Those with high demand for IP address, mainly Internet service providers and wireless carriers, already should be on top of the issue. Most companies, however, needn’t worry at all. The complete transition to IPv6 is expected to take five years or more.

The CompTIA survey found that just over half (56%) of respondents indicated they are following news on IPv6 and 30% have conducted research into the implications. However, only 21% have actually performed network upgrades while nearly one-third (31%) have done nothing at all. BottomlineIT’s recommendation: unless you are a huge consumer of IP addresses you’ve already done what you need for now simply by reading this piece. You can safely wait until you go through your normal equipment, system, and application refreshes.

A more productive use of your IPv6 thinking might be pondering what new things you can do when you have access to a seemingly unlimited number of unique IP addresses.

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