DENVER - IPv6 appears to have found a new killer app: business continuity.
This replacement for the Internet's main communications protocol has been searching for a business driver that would propel ISPs and enterprises to make investments and upgrades since it was created 15 years ago.
At the North American IPv6 Summit being held in Denver this week, IPv6 experts seem to have converged around the idea that business continuity is going to be that reason CIOs finally purchase IPv6 products and services.
"We've seen a ridiculous spike in actual deployments of IPv6 in the enterprise around the Internet edge," said Shannon McFarland, principal engineer for data center technologies in Cisco's consulting engineering team. "Customers are doing Internet edge deployments for business continuity."
"If you do not establish a presence on the IPv6 Internet, you will be isolated. At the end of the day, it's a business continuity issue," agreed Yannick Pouffary, a distinguished technologist at HP.
Tom Coffeen, IPv6 Evangelist at Infoblox, said the top three reasons enterprises should care about deploying IPv6 are: risk management, business continuity and business agility. "Any sudden, unplanned IPv6 adoption would result in service interruptions and uncontrolled costs," he explained.
Until now, there has been no single, compelling reason for ISPs and enterprises to upgrade to IPv6, which is not backwards-compatible with the original version of the Internet Protocol known as IPv4.
IPv4 needs an upgrade because it is running out of address space for hooking up new subscribers and devices. IPv6 solves this problem with an expanded addressing scheme that can support billions of devices connected directly to the Internet.
The timeframe for IPv6 upgrades is fast approaching. Last year, the Asia Pacific region depleted all but a small reserve of its IPv4 address space, while Europe is expected to run out of IPv4 addresses this spring. The latest projection is that North America will deplete its share of IPv4 addresses by early 2013.
BACKGROUND: No More IPv4 Addresses
Network operators need to upgrade their routing, edge, security, network management, analytics and other systems in order to support both IPv4 and IPv6 in what's called dual-stack mode. The alternative is for network operators to translate between IPv4 and IPv6, but that adds latency and overhead cost.
"The Internet content industry wants quality access to the users, with high bandwidth, low latency, low jitter and with consistent network information," said John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which doles out IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to North American network operators. "Connectivity via [network address translation] doesn't cut it... The content industry is well aware of what it takes to deliver quality content, and it isn't IPv4. It's IPv6."
IPv6 proponents have floated many potential killer apps over the years besides the inevitable exhaustion of IPv4 address space.
Then in 2006, when the cable industry added IPv6 to its DOCSIS 3.0 standard, it appeared that cable operators such as Comcast and Time Warner would be the early adopters of IPv6.
Other ideas that have been promoted as IP address hogs and IPv6 enablers over the years include video streaming, online gaming and cloud computing.
As recently as 2009, prognosticators anticipated that the Internet of Things - including sensors and actuators - would drive IPv6 deployment through such applications as the electricity industry's Smart Grid project.
Now it appears that business continuity is the idea that's resonating with enterprise buyers of IPv6 products. By using this term, network vendors are highlighting the fact that ISPs and enterprises must upgrade to IPv6 in order to keep their online operations - Web sites, email and other externally-facing Web services - accessible to the small-but-growing number of Internet users assigned IPv6 addresses by their carriers.
McFarland gave the example of a customer in Asia with an IPv6 address trying to access a U.S. banking application that only supports IPv4. "They can't get to your portal," he said, explaining that companies need to upgrade their Internet edge to allow access by both IPv4 and IPv6 users to corporate Web sites.
The same argument is being made in the U.S. federal government, which must support IPv4 and IPv6 on all externally facing Web services by Sept. 30, 2012 under an Obama Administration mandate. Agencies must upgrade their Web, e-mail, DNS and ISP services to support IPv6 by this September and all internal Internet services to IPv6 by September 2014.
"The number one federal driver for IPv6 is business continuity," said Dale Geesey, COO of Auspex Technologies and an adviser to federal CIOs regarding IPv6 deployment. "The other drivers are modernization, to reduce complexity and to enable ubiquitous security."Read more: Business continuity and disaster recovery planning: The basics
The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, which is already 99% compliant with the Obama Administration's IPv6 mandate, said it has been working on IPv6 deployment since 2006.
"In the business model of the VA, it's about continuing to move services out to the customer, i.e. the veteran, as much as we can possibly do it, and that goes for healthcare and other benefits" said Steve Pirzchalski, director of the Office of Telecommunications and IPv6 Transition Manager at VA."We foresaw that we were going to have to be in the business of moving an organization of 500,000 people and multiple lines of business to IPv6. We did a lot of it through tech refresh for cost control reasons. It's about business continuity for the VA."
Pirzchalski pointed out that the VA has moved beyond the Obama Administration IPv6 mandate by setting an internal deadline of 2015 for having all of its computing applications and network resources run IPv6 only. "We don't want to keep two networks [IPv4 and IPv6] running indefinitely because of security risks and cost control reasons," he added.
Ron Broersma, chief engineer for the U.S. military's Defense Research and Engineering Network, took the argument about business continuity one step further: "The business case for IPv6 is business survival. The killer app is the Internet itself."
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