I’m a sucker for good, biting humor, and in the spirit of Stephen Colbert’s Medals of Fear that he gave to a few distinguished souls (the press, Mark Zuckerberg, Anderson Cooper) at the rally in Washington D.C., I would like to hand a medal to the U.S. State Department for its 1999 publication of a country-by-country set of "Y2K" warnings — “End of Days” scenarios and solutions — for Americans doing business in 194 nations. I would give another medal to IPv6, the most drawn-out killer technology to date — and one that has had the longest run at trying to scare everyone about the end of IPv4. At Forrester, we are starting to see the adoption freighter slowly turning via the number of inquiries rolling in; governments accelerating their adoption with new mandates; vendors including IPv6 in their solutions; and the Number Resource Organization escalating its announcements about the depletion of IPv4 addresses (only 5% left!). To add to the drama, vendors are in the process of creating IPv4 address countdown clocks to generate buzz and differentiation. These scare tactics haven’t worked because technology pundits haven’t spoken about IPv6 in business terms. There is enormous business value in IPv6; those who embrace it will be the new leaders in their space.

The basic idea is that IPv4, with its XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX scheme, offers 4.3 billion addresses to serve the world’s 6.5 billion people. When IP was conceived in the 1970s, no one thought that it would be the dominant transport protocol; as a result, they missed the limitations of the 32-bit address. However, much more is at stake when we expand the scope beyond people to untapped possibilities: cable boxes offering next-generation entertainment experiences; washers that are leased by use; refrigerators managed by grocery stores, etc. Today, for example, Bechtel uses 51,000 devices to monitor and control a refinery via IP. Potentially, every user could have a double-digit number of addresses virtually associated with them. In reality, there are more addresses being used than IPv4’s 4.3 billion: IPv6’s adoption has been held back by IP-masquerading NAT (network address translation), which allows large networks can be connected to the Internet with as little as a single IP address. 

Now, I don’t want to play down the risks associated with not addressing IPv6, but IPv4 exhaustion is not resonating as a reason to switch. Many infrastructure managers ask, “Other than the Internet not working, what’s the business value? How do I sell this compared to virtualization?” The answer? It’s about remaining relevant and competitive. Technology that enables the real-time, dynamic flow of information is critical for companies, organizations, and governments. For example, the method of consuming entertainment has changed radically over the past decade and once-dominant players have been brought to their knees by more business-/technology-savvy companies: Blockbuster couldn’t keep up with Netflix’s value proposition; and the music industry and related businesses (Virgin and Tower Records) were turned on their heads by streaming, file-sharing software, and Apple’s iPod.

In a retail example, Wal-Mart crushed its rivals Kmart and Sears with its just-in-time inventory system powered by leading-edge data collection. Sam Walton noticed that his rivals couldn’t keep their shelves stocked, resulting in lost revenues and a poor shopping experience for customers. He wanted to make sure that any item that left his stores was replenished immediately so that customers had a positive impression every time they walked into a store.

Operations and infrastructure managers can accelerate the adoption of IPv6 by highlighting the business value that the technology brings. Organizations can tap into:

  • A new set of customers. There is a large, untapped customer base that connects with IPv6-only devices, which can only communicate with IPv6 hosts. Currently, just 43% of the world accesses the Internet; in Asia, the penetration rate is just 20%. Just in Asia alone, your business could tap into another 3 billion customers as they are rapidly coming on-line.
  • A new revenue stream (services). Whether your business manufactures cars or provides a service, companies are moving to customized experiences, as outlined in Moira Dorsey’s report, “The Future Of Online Customer Experience” (Forrester clients can read this report here). To enable this type of personalization, applications will have to move beyond the NAT world that currently exists in every network environment. IPv6 removes the NAT barrier. Unique services generated for a user will require knowing that user and drawing on high-speed distributed computing by allowing flexible patterns of host-to-host communications.
  • A real-time exchange of information through multimodal collaboration with customers, vendors, and internal personnel. Forrester believes one of the largest challenges facing Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) is the need to support empowered employees. These are employees who are equipped with the mobile, video, social, and cloud technologies needed to directly interface and support customers.  The next generation of SIP-based interpersonal communications applications — including voice over IP (VoIP) and innovative forms of messaging, presence, and Virtual Room Videoconferencing System (VRVS)—make effective use of central servers to allow users to locate each other then connects the users directly together for host-to-host communication.  This type of communication breaks when either user is placed behind a NAT.

In my next blog, I’ll look at the steps you need to take to deploy IPv6 in a bite-size, manageable way.  In the meantime, what sort of experiences have you had with IPv6? What are your greatest concerns about using it?