IT managers will have their work cut out in making a case to senior level executives

The last time a new Internet protocol came into being was in the early 1980's, when the Internet was still a fledgling research network. Thirty years later, the migration to a new standard, IPv6, is now a gargantuan task that involves businesses, online enterprises and consumers alike.

Without new addresses, billions of people will never be able to use new Internet services or access applications and technologies that are in the blueprints of today's businesses and in the minds of tomorrow's entrepreneurs.

With minimal investment, companies can jump ahead of the competition by making their systems IPv6 compatible, according to Amod Malviya, Vice-President-Engineering at Flipkart. Surely, IT managers across India will have their work cut out in making a case to senior level executives.

World IPv6 launch day

His remarks come at a time when major network operators, websites and hardware vendors from around the world pushed everybody to get ready for the switch from the current website address identification method of IPv4, as part of the World IPv6 launch on June 6.

Since June 6, leading websites have had IPv6 permanently enabled, while equipment vendors have started including IPv6 connectivity as part of their default product settings.

Deployments of this degree of undertaking are generally not undertaken lightly, but there is no debate anymore on whether or not the world is running out of IPv4 addresses. IPv4 is made up of a set of numbers that help identify web addresses, helping them communicate with one another.

However, the inherent disadvantage of the IPv4 protocol is the creation of only 4.3 billion possible IP addresses, a total which is soon running out.

According to statistics released by the Internet Society, a non-profit organisation, the last block of IPv4 addresses were assigned from the global supply, leaving no address space to be distributed in the Asia-Pacific region.

To put things into perspective, the new IPv6 system would ensure that for every square centimetre on Earth, there will be over 600 million billion IP addresses. Even though issuing IPv4 addresses might continue over the next two years, companies can put themselves ahead of the pack, by wrinkling out the gnarls in the IPv6 learning curve before it becomes popular.

Being prepared

Despite lack of direct financial gain, the transition to IPv6 compatibility is something “that must be done sooner rather than later as it will carry more risk if a company starts doing it when there are many customers on IPv6,” said Mr. Malviya.

However, a recent IPv6 industry survey indicated that over 20 per cent of businesses felt that “there was no business case” for implementing IPv6 — seeing it as an expense with no accompanying revenue increase. It has become increasingly clear now that even with interim workarounds, the long-term overall cost in not deploying IPv6 now will be more for individual companies looking to grow.

“Companies will end up spending more time trying to cope with the scarcity of IPv4 addresses, whether it is in workarounds or buying networking gear — it's just more expensive if you don't plan for it. In addition to this, businesses which do not initiate transition now will risk accessibility problems of their websites and services when more customers start using IPv6 and companies aren't prepared,” said G. V. Murali, network analyst, Fourth Dimension Technologies.

When mobile devices become IPv6 only, with lack of IPv4 addresses, the use of IPv6 will become a requirement for e-commerce and software solution companies looking to expand and tap into these growth opportunities. How do such businesses go about this?

Low investment

Flipkart, India's largest online books retailer, made the switch to IPv6 four weeks ago. According to Mr. Malviya, the shift was not cost-intensive and ‘a lot easier than most companies generally think'.

“For a company like ours, it took us two weeks with a team of four people. The majority of any expenditure for companies that are looking to switch will come from hardware. Basically, if your networking hardware has been purchased in the last five years, it will be fine as it is most likely IPv6 capable,” said Mr. Malviya.

A lot of the staff training can be done using publicly available resources on the Internet and with regard to software, for more than 90 per cent of websites, no change would be needed, he added.

For bigger companies, taking an inventory of all networking hardware and web serving software older than five years becomes the first step as phased conversion could prove to be the cheapest method. However, ICANN CEO, Rob Beckstrom, has projected the cost of moving an emerging market economy of 50 million people to IPv6 at ‘roughly one billion dollars, a figure which includes “upgrades to infrastructure that most companies and governments would have had to do at some point.”

Ovum, an independent analyst and consultancy firm, released a report last year that advised businesses to take up to 10 years to complete the move, with planning starting from last year. At present, the dual stack approach, where both IPv4 and IPv6 protocols are run, is seen as the most effective approach.

ISPs and consumers

While organisations can stave off the eventual change, Internet Service Providers and consumers will have to play their part in adopting the new protocol.

“While some devices may already share an address, if IPv6 isn't implemented, one would have to share a single address with a whole area. Consumers must help create demand by asking for IPv6 support, the next time they choose hardware, software or even their ISPs. Businesses and ISPs have been reluctant to provide IPv6 assistance as they see no customer demand for it,” said Mr. Murali. Businesses that refuse to change, citing cost factors, run the risk of running into a number of challenges including increased costs, crippled website functionality and cordoning growth opportunities in a growing market like India, he added.

Companies, ISPs and netizens must adopt IPv6 to enable continued growth of the Internet, avoid the inevitable chaos caused by the IPv4 shortage and ensure that business is undisrupted.

With a capacity of over 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses, IPv6 will allow us to continue, for all practical purposes, indefinitely.