Adopting IPv6 is a Corporate Business Issue

Along with many groups Internet pioneer Vint Cerf has persistently warned of the imminent exhaustion of IPv4 Internet addresses (see clips from 2010, 2011 and 2012), to largely frustrating effect.

The time for warnings is over.

The primary supply of 4.3bn addresses allowed by IPv4 has now run out. That's because 2.4bn of the current 7bn+ world population are connected to the Internet today, along with all their devices and supporting infrastructures. And that's before “things” - whether fridges, cars, items of clothing, light bulbs or sensors - start to require domain addresses.

So it's surely a no-brainer that continuation of the original Internet principle of end-to-end connectivity requires user deployment of IPv6 naming which allows trillions upon trillions of addresses?

Surprisingly for me that's a matter of deep debate within the technical community. There seems to be more emphasis right now on IPv4 shortage mitigation than full-scale IPv6 implementation.

Catch 22 of IPv6 adoption
Up till now there's been a series of chicken-and-egg type infrastructural Catch-22s, well summarised in a Cisco paper.

  • ISPs haven't deployed IPv6 to subscribers due to lack of IPv6 content to make it useful.
  • Content providers haven't enabled IPv6 on their Web sites, as there have been no users for it.
  • Network Operators haven't seen the need to enable their network for such a tiny proportion of users and content.
  • Enterprises haven't enabled IPv6 as they appeared to have plenty of IPv4 addresses, their B2C clients were only on IPv4, so there's been no compelling return-on-investment to justify the cost.         
  • Device manufacturers haven't always included IPv6 in their products, as there's been very little demand by end-users.

Still a Climate for IPv4 mitigation and IPv6 adoption delay

IPv6 adoption is currently perceived as all cost and no value. So organisations are maximising the remaining elbow room in the current IPv4 environment, by, for example, squeezing more out of Network Address Translation (NAT) which allows a network to use minimal addresses, or by renumbering redundant addresses, or by other means such as deploying private networks.

And when it comes to the Internet of Things there is a chorus from some technical but influential people in organisations actively urging restraint on IPv6 adoption.They see IPv6 as a Layer 3 network issue, not an Internet of Things issue. One argument is that IPv6 is just one element towards interoperability in an Internet of Things environment and not the be-all and end-all.  It  points to inherent dangers in equating IPv6 with getting value from the Internet of Things saying, for example, that the thousands of sensor devices around a hub don't necessarily need IPv6. It is only the hub itself that does.

Many technical people don't regard IPv6 as a technical problem but as a commercial one.
At the same time arguments for IPv6 restraint can only fuel the perception of commercial businesses that IPv6 is currently no value and all cost. In top of that, future-aware Chief Information Officers often don't have the hearing of the Chief Operating Officers who tend to own the operational networks, and support the short term economics and vested interests supporting the old IT legacy backbone.

In looking to the Internet of Things there could be some attraction to governments and corporations to build interconnected but closed worlds -  not wanting the raw data collected from IPv6 addressed sources available everywhere.

Overall I see too many people looking at this whole area from a narrow, siloed perspective - also, to some extent, from a top-down perspective and not incorporating a bottom-up one too. It is so important here to look global.

So what will it take to change?

As with the World Wide Web and the disintermediation and new markets it brought in during the 1990s, the business imperatives of IPv6 will creep up gradually and then start to accelerate - putting late adopters at increasing commercial disadvantage.

The first business pressure will come from increasingly high costs of taking up new IPv4 addresses as a grey or black market starts to thrive as those hoarding IPv4 addresses may hope to make a killing.

Corporate enterprises may also start to find that they are gradually losing customers or finding it difficult to attract new ones, especially in IPv6 enabled regions.

Global IPv6 Take-up is slow

It's A glance at IPv6 adoption figures is sobering. Surprisingly Romania is the world leading adopter, followed by France, in terms of percentage of IPv6 users. The collated statistical charts here from Cisco show the gap between infrastructural readiness and actual user deployment. Google publishes statistics as does the Internet Society on access network IPv6 deployment and real world IPv6 deployment.

Country    % of Users    No of Users    Overall Infrastructure Readiness
Romania         8.8%              766k                 77.9%
France            5.2%            2614k                 61.8%
Japan              3.1%            3124k                 43.1%
USA                2.5%            6236k                 43.7%
Germany        1.9%            1345k                  44.4%
Peru                1.1%             117k                  36.9%
Norway           1.0%               48k                 43.2%
China              0.6%           3397k                   9.1%
UK                  0.1%               57k                 32.8%

(Source: dynamically updated Cisco statistics)

Corporate Boards could do well to look at the example of early corporate adopters and also look to which countries too are early adopters too.

Another factor influencing corporates will be the stance of national governments. The US government, for example, now mandates IPv6 for  example for defence procurement approval. The Chinese government is highly supportive and planning a future IPv6 backbone. China should be viewed not as it is now but as it will be. Last week the UK government slipped onto its Cabinet Office website a note that it regards IPv6 as an open standard and up for comment. It falls short of saying that government should use it - just that it could use it. Presumably when bidding for US defence contracts!

Why Bosch is adopting IPv6

Far sighted corporate enterprises are beginning to adopt IPv6. One example is giant £40bn German corporation Bosch. Being a charitable foundation  Bosch is no ordinary commercial company shackled to short term results - its structure enables it to invest in the long term.

Bosch has recognised the opportunities opening up for Internet of Things in its key markets, especially e-Health, e-Mobility, e-Production, e-Energy and e-Transportation, and sees opportunities to take advantage of the billions of Internet components forecast to populate these areas over the next few years.

In particular, Bosch's Stefan Ferber looks to IPv6 to address two key issues: the running out of free IPv4 numbers and the need for an upgrade for the standard level of security for the Internet.

Ferber does not buy the argument that Network Address translation protects Internet participants adequately and is looking to the huge IPv6 address space to gain advantage from completely new mechanisms for privacy. He recognises this will cost. Drawing on the similarities with the Y2K Millennium bug he equates the cost of moving to IPv6 with that transition cost.

“The address space of 128 bits is a pure necessity for the Internet of Things and Services, sensor networks, and interconnected devices”, he says.  He adds that additional reasons for IPv6 are mobile OP support, auto-configuration techniques and built-in security features.

He sees the transition period from IPv4 to IPv6 as taking 5-10 years and during that time he will uses various techniques such as dual-stacking, tunnelling or translation to allow interoperability.

All that is a speculative cost for certain, but indeterminate future value. One bank anticipating the cost of preparing for IPv6 will be about $400k for equipment and $400k for services such as training.

China: IPv6 at the heart of Next Generation Internet Programme
Yet another reason for moving sooner rather than later to IPv6 is China. A recent paper by Ying Liu, Jianping Wu, Qian Wu, amd Ke Xu of Tsinghua University, Beijing - which caused a stir in the West - draws attention to how China has IPv6 underpinning the heart of its next generation Internet.

They look to overcome the limitations of  the current evolutionary approach using IPv6 using the existing Internet architecture, with a “clean slate”, entirely new Internet architecture.

That will address the seven key problem areas of the current Internet which they list as:

  • scalability to non-computer “things”
  • high performance up to 100Mbps end-to-end transmission speeds
  • real time reliability
  • mobility with advanced wireless comms
  • security (provision of authenticity and traceability)
  • manageability with fine grained network management 
  • economy in overcoming the current huge profitability imbalance between network operators and content providers.

This paper outlines the IPv6 related advances in China and its first steps in establishing a large scale Internet backbone (CNGI-Cernet2) based on pure IPv6. It also describes how they are addressing future topologies and routing design, IP address assignment, domain name system registration, network testing and measurement and integrative network management.

At the centre of this is the Source Address Validation Architecture (SAVA) approach to authenticating IP addresses of computers trying to connect to a network via a series of checkpoints to identify trusted computers by their IP addresses.

The future of IPv6 is now!

The next generation Internet and the Internet of Things will, like the first generation Internet itself, only properly thrive if it adheres to Vint Cerf's original principle of end-to-end connectivity. That is a principle embodied in the Chinese activity and any corporations wishing to do business with China in the future need to consider a proactive approach to IPv6, like that of Bosch. It won't be long before bright analysts will be factoring in the state of a quoted company's IPv6 readiness and deployment into futures stock price quotations.

The smart money during the next couple of years will be on those companies adopting IPv6 and, importantly, building the IPv6 skills base ahead of the band-wagon to come.


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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