Debate about whether or not the industry is ready for the switch to IPv6 has been raging for years, but like a campfire on a rainy day it always seems to fizzle out.
The existing protocol IPv4 is creaking considerably, particularly with the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices over recent months, all of which need an IP address to function. Fear is mounting that the world is running out of IP addresses.
Cisco's recent Visual Networking Index report revealed that billions of new devices will be connected to the internet by 2015.
Ian Foddering, chief technology officer at the networking giant, said: "This is an average of more than two devices for every person on the planet. In the developed world this is even higher, where it will be up to seven network-connected devices. By moving to IPv6, the number of IP addresses is expanded to an unimaginably large scale."
According to recent research by industry body and training and
certification specialist CompTIA, IPv6 signals a huge opportunity for the channel, with just 31 per cent of respondents in one of its US studies believing the transition to the new protocol will be smooth.
The survey, which questioned 400 senior decision makers in the US, revealed that while awareness of IPv6 exists, action taken to prepare for the switchover has been minimal. Just 56 per cent of the firms surveyed revealed they are following the news on IPv6, and 30 per cent have conducted deeper research into the implications. However, just 21 per cent have performed network upgrades and 31 per cent have done nothing at all.
Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at CompTIA, said: "While some organisations may have sufficient IT staff to handle IPv6 transition tasks internally, many others will likely choose to outsource the work.
Technology vendors, resellers and managed service providers may have opportunities to engage their customers not only for hardware and software sales, but also for education and consultation on how to navigate the transition."
Earlier this month saw the first World IPv6 Day, where a number of technology firms staged a 24-hour IPv6 global promotion campaign by switching their web sites to the updated internet protocol.
Clive Longbottom, service director at Quocirca, said the results were interesting.
"The debate about IPv6 first surfaced about 20 years ago and we were told we had to move swiftly then as well. The problem is that there is no forwards or backwards capability between IPv4 and IPv6.
"During IPv6 Day all the devices running had an IPv6 address, but still they needed an IPv4 address and the routers all defaulted to IPv4. Configuring them for IPv6 is a big job and it is a long-term issue."
Keep calm and carry on
Longbottom said it was nothing to panic over, but the industry should also focus on addressing issues that could ease the burden on IPv4.
"The problems are numerous. First you have blackhats that are using IPv4 addresses for malicious reasons such as spam - they use an address for five minutes and then drop it. There are thousands, if not millions, of IPv4 addresses that can be brought back into play - it just needs policing correctly and all the unused addresses being harvested back in.
"Also, some companies are sitting on 10 or 20 blocks of IPv4 addresses with more than a million addresses per block," he said. "The channel has a role to play in this but I do not think it should be the leader. It is the vendors that need to get their story together and help the channel understand its role."
He said that many companies are working off one public IP address and everything else is running behind a firewall without the need for an IPv4 address.
"We just need more firms to adopt this method so that more public addresses can be freed up," he said.
Nicolas Fischbach, director of network strategy and architecture at Colt, said despite the hype over IPv6, "the sky is not falling just yet."
"For those that use most consumer internet services there is still plenty of time to work with their channel partner or service provider to plan for IPv6," he said.
"For customers where internet services are a core part of their business, the need to address IPv6 becomes more critical. For these customers, partners and service providers should aim to work closely to first educate and help plan, before moving on to help with any implementation."
Fischbach said the buzz around IPv6 is likely to slow down again soon, but that is not a cause for complacency.
"Plans must be put in place when the time is right as customers and channel partners will suffer if they wake up at the last minute, in maybe 12 or 24 months' time, and realise they have to invest massively without properly planning for it."
Richard Hyatt, chief technical officer and co-founder of BlueCat Networks, said the company is working closely with partners to ensure a smooth transition.
"IPv6 is the largest network changeover in the history of the internet, and organisations will face challenges implementing IPv6 inside the enterprise," he said.
"Despite the scale and complexity of the transition, many still do not have a plan in place. BlueCat Networks is working with its partners and clients, including large enterprises, government agencies and service providers to help simplify the move."
Bruce Hockin, head of business strategy at BlueCat distribution partner Avnet, agrees that the switchover is an opportunity for the channel.
"Avnet is already working with a handful of partners that are at the forefront in terms of understanding the IPv6 strategy for successful migration. We see IPv6 as a great opportunity for the channel and as such we are investing in sales and technical education programmes to help the vast majority of partners not currently active in this space, to gain the skills required," he said.
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