Five years ago, I wrote a column questioning the need for IPv6 because I felt IPv4 was more than adequate. Today as I gaze across the network horizon I ask where is all the IPv6? Even with all the hype there are very few implementations outside of educational institutions, government or telecomms companies. In the corporate world, IPv4 remains king. And from what I can see, it will remain king through this decade.
That doesn't mean IPv6 is dead. Eventually, most companies will be forced to switch to IPv6 because of vendors eliminating IPv4 support. While IPv6 has definite technical advantages, the business value and functionality doesn't justify the conversion costs.
The increased availability of WAN technologies such as Border Gateway Protocol-based Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPNs facilitates the continued use of both IPv4 and private IP address spaces. The highly touted increased address space of IPv6 still is not critical to most corporations. IPv4-based technologies such as IPSec, SSL, MPLS, Differentiated Services and router-based queuing mechanisms adequately match the security and quality of IPv6 service enhancements.
From an application perspective, IPv6 actually can create problems. While operating system vendors are shipping IPv6 stacks and IPv6 versions of HTTP and FTP, most off-the-shelf applications are not IPv6-based and might require the use of tunnelling or other modifications to work properly in an IPv6 environment. This only adds to the cost, complexity and service issues of an IPv6 migration.
As most corporate IT organizations are constantly under pressure to reduce expenditures while increasing service, IPv6 is still seen as a solution looking for a problem. A migration to IPv6 will neither reduce near-term operational costs nor enhance functionality. On the contrary, migrating to IPv6 will create short-term cost increases and might affect service because of training, support and implementation issues.
While IPv6 might never be "required", I think it will replace IPv4 when the economics are right. Most new equipment supports IPv6. IT managers are laying the foundation for the eventual migration to IPv6 as they replace their fully depreciated legacy routers, switches, desktops, servers and operating systems through normal end-of-life processes. Within five years, most organizations will have an infrastructure capable of supporting IPv6 so it will become a "no-capital" initiative more palatable to management. Until then, IPv4 will continue to reign supreme.
Chuck Yoke is director of business solutions engineering for a corporate network in Denver