why IPv6 matters to your business

iPhone and Android; iPad and tablet -- we're in the mobile age. IMS Research expects 1 billion smartphone sales in 2016. That's not all, there are new breeds of connected devices (M2M) hitting industry and the home. Many of these things may require their own IP address to connect to the Internet, and that’s the bad news, really, because IP addresses assigned under the current IPv4 system are running out.

IPv4 is the technology that drives the World Wide Web, but the free pool of IP addresses held by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was depleted in February, 2011. Fortunately, there’s an alternative: IPv6, which promises 340 undecillion IP addresses -- the kind of numbers we’re going to need as connected devices proliferate.

mobile's step beyond

Is it only about mobile devices? Of course not. That PC or Mac you use, that connected MP3 player and your smart television -- all these devices carry their own IP address. Future connected devices, security systems, even cars, may all need their own IP addresses, also.

There are implications beyond consumer markets. Industry is growing connected, too. Those automated Machine-To-Machine (M2M) systems coming online in agriculture, transportation logistics, warehousing and supermarket product labelling, all these may need IP numbers too.

There are other implications. By 2020 there’s expected to be 825 million smart electricity meters, and while these may use Zigbee or powerline addressing systems, rather than offering a public IP address, in some cases these systems may need their own IP address, too.

In other words, if you think the IP address proliferation we’ve seen since the Web became real in 1990 is impressive, then get ready to be dazzled. This was only the beginning.

disruptive technology

The implications move beyond new industrial processes. Existing business will feel the address pinch: online retailers, secure Intranets, secure Web presences of any kind; tracking and inventory and ordering systems -- anything that’s consumer or business-focused is likely to need to climb aboard the IPv6 train, because, increasingly and particularly in emerging economies, your customers will be using IPv6 to get online.

IPv6 is already supported at an operating system level, (OS X, Windows, iOS, Android). In most cases you need to run existing IPv4 infrastructure concurrently (called Dual Stack) with IPv6, as the two address systems aren’t directly compatible. There’s a good account of available solutions at the Cisco website.

However, with an increasing population of Internet and device users based in emerging economies, such as China, anyone offering online services will need to enable IPv6, as that’s what customers will be using. And implementing IPv6 is a challenge.

Most companies will run a dual-stack setup; that is, make their networks both IPv4- and IPv6-capable. However, dual stacking can be a huge project. Your ISP or IP transit provider will have to provide you with IPv6 addresses, your DNS server will need to accept both A and AAAA records, firewalls and access control lists (ACLs) need to be upgraded, and all of your servers must support IPv6,writes Information Week.

time to leap?

IPv6 implementation is time-consuming and costly, so it’s not especially surprising that a technology as high-end as this isn’t well understood by business budget planners. This means many enterprises haven’t put the infrastructure together just yet.

With emerging markets growing now at a phenomenal rate and already making wide use of IPv6, there’s a growing business case to engage in the IPv6 task -- or lose your connection to the world’s next boom economies.


image © MaFiFo - Fotolia.com

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.