Conversion to IPv6 is necessary because the supply of IPv4 addresses is close to exhaustion. An IPv4 address is only 32 bits long, creating a supply of just 4 billion addresses. The IPv6 address is 128 bits, creating more than 340 undecillion address combinations--(340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), which is a 34 followed by 34 zeros--a virtually unlimited supply.
By one measure, IPv6 adoption is on the upswing. A November 2011 survey commissioned by Infoblox, a network infrastructure automation vendor, found that 25.4% of the Internet zones under .com, .net and .org domains support IPv6, up from only 1.27% in a 2010 survey.
But in terms of enterprise adoption of IPv6, little work is being done on the upgrade. Jim Frey of the research firm Enterprise Management Associates points to another Infoblox-commissioned study that said only 9% of businesses surveyed had completed an IPv6 rollout; 68% said they had made little or no progress in conversion; and 23% said they were in the midst of a rollout.
Converting to IPv6 may not seem a priority, but the pressure to upgrade varies by the type of business, says Arpit Joshipura, chief marketing officer for Force 10 Networks, a network equipment vendor recently acquired by Dell. He says the industry segment most likely to adopt IPv6 first is Web 2.0 companies, such as social networking sites like Facebook, because they have a lot more user endpoints. Under the least pressure to adopt IPv6 are enterprise data centers, he says, because they have relatively little "Internet-facing IT."
That being the case, enterprise data center operators can plan a smaller project focused just on its Internet-facing network.
"We see enterprises recognizing that they need a plan but that the plan can be done in pieces," says Keith Stewart, director of product management for Brocade Network's application delivery products. "Very few people that I talk to anymore are thinking about 'how do I do an end-to-end upgrade to v6' because the cost and benefit analysis just isn't there."
Service providers have led the market in migrating to IPv6 and they have an opportunity to monetize the IPv6 skills they have built up to advise others how to make the switch, Stewart says. "There's not a lot of IPv6 expertise out there, but ... they've got a lot of the IPv6 talent in house."