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IPv6: Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? In this case, the unstoppable force is the accelerating growth of the Internet combined with the imminent end of available IPv4 addresses. The current demand for Internet addresses has been averaging 250 million per year, but the ongoing growth of mobile connections is expected to surge 11%, to 5.6 billion, this year, according to Gartner. Meanwhile, the nascent machine-to-machine connectivity market--or, the "Internet of Things"--is expected to add 25 billion connections by 2015.

The immovable object is the current dominant way of connecting to the Internet, IPv4, whose time is about over. By October, the Asia-Pacific region was effectively out of IPv4 addresses, while as of April, North America was sitting on less than 90 million IPv4 addresses. There were 4.3 billion addresses available under IPv4 (32-bit); under its successor, IPv6 (128-bit), there are more than 340 undecillion addresses (340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).

However the approaching end of IPv4 addresses doesn't seem to be of much interest right now. According to a recent survey from Nemertes Research, it's not even on the radar for almost 80% of respondents to the company's 2011-2012 benchmark, and 78% of the companies have no transition plan yet.

IPv6 has a lot more going for it than umpteen gadzillions of addresses. Recent tests by Compuware found that IPv6 Web application performance increased from 2% to 200%, averaging 80%. In addition to more efficient routing and packet processing, IPv6 provides directed data flows, simplified network configuration, support for new services and much tighter security.

However, all this may not be enough, suggests consultant Andrew Dul in a recent paper on the economics of IPv4 and IPv6. He says there are a number of barriers to IPv6 deployment, including costs, training, hardware and software, reduced reliability, and limited support. He expects the Hotelling rule to characterize this transition: "For an exhaustible resource, a transition will not occur until the price of a replacement resource exceeds the cost of the current resource."

The bottom line, says Dul, is the bottom line. Economics underpin the transition, whether we like it or not, and until the cost of IPv4 exceeds the cost of IPv6, mainstream adoption will not occur.

See more on this topic by subscribing to Network Computing Pro Reports Fundamentals: The Switch to IPv6 (subscription required).