Who Needs IPv6?

On Monday June 30th, the U.S. Government mandate for IPv6 readiness comes into effect. Years ago, when I first became aware of the mandate, I thought that this would be the day that IPv6 would finally come to the American mainstream.

I was wrong.

Despite a government mandate that companies that do business with the U.S. government upgrade to IPv6, there has been no mad rush by American enterprises or the vendors that support them for IPv6.

The doom and gloom prediction of IP address exhaustion, which drove the mandate to upgrade to the IPv6 protocol still persists. But right now, most enterprises in United States have little need to move to IPv6. They’ve chosen to put off the pain.

To be sure, those that service the U.S. Government have profited from the IPv6 mandate, though it’s unclear at this point by how much. A Department of Commerce report pegged the transition to IPv6 with a price tag of
$75 billion
. Six months to a year from now, there will likely be an accounting for what the actual cost is.

It’s also not clear how much of the Government will be IPv6 capable versus how much will actually be using IPv6 as a primary transport addressing mechanism. The government isn’t going to be turning off their IPv4 access either, instead dual stack mechanisms that support both IPv4 and IPv6 will likely be the norm across government infrastructure.

For the U.S. Government IPv6 is important to help set a standard for the rest of American enterprises to help maintain competitiveness. It’s also a strategic asset for the Department of Defense which may use the addressing scheme to identify all of its battlefield assets.

“Enterprise-wide deployment of IPv6 will keep the war fighter secure and connected in a fast-moving battle space,” Assistant Secretary of Defense John P. Stenbit said in 2003.. “Achievement of net-centric operations and warfare depends on effectively implementing the transition.”

Yet, whenever I step outside the US Government bubble and ask vendors or regular enterprises about IPv6 I typically get very little enthusiasm. In fact, at the recent Interop and NXTcomm shows in Las Vegas, I barely got more than a shrug from any vendor I asked about IPv6. Many will claim to support it in their products, but it’s not a factor that is driving demand.

The reality is that the current IPv4 addressing system is working just fine for American enterprises and consumers. Though address exhaustion is predicted globally within a few years, it’s not a pain that anyone in the US is really feeling today. Add to that the fact that simply put IPv6 isn’t simple.

It’s not simple to manage or deploy.

I’d suspect that most Enterprise IT managers know their own IP address and can remember IP addresses for assets within their infrastructure. I know for example that my printer (under a local address) is at When I see that address in a log I know what it is. I’m used to it. Moving to the more complex (and robust) IPv6 would mean an address for my printer that I will never remember.

Beyond address complexity, the simple fact is that there is no easily recognizable return on investment metric for US enterprises to move to IPv6.

The added complexities of managing IPv6 as well as transition efforts undoubtedly have an associated cost. But what is the benefit?

Sure for those that deal with the US Government it makes sense. They need to interoperate with the U.S. Government sites. Plus, there’s that $750 hammer example that is so legion with government contracting.

But for the rest of the population it’s a tougher sell.

Certainly as the big carriers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast come face to face with IPv4 address depletion they will be forced to force their downstream customers to adopt IPv6. When that day is coming – I don’t know.

As it stands now there is no “flag day” for IPv6, no day when IPv4 will be turned off, no day when to access the Internet only IPv6 will work. So though the US Government mandate is an event and a milestone for IPv6 it is not the ‘flag day. Until that day comes I strongly suspect that IPv4 will continue to be popular in the US and IPv6 adoption will remain low.

If you don’t believe me – just look at your own organization. Do you use
IPv6 as a primary addressing transport?

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor for InternetNews.com

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