No business case for IPv6, survey finds

US survey shows a lack of incentives for upgrading to IPv6 technology

Business incentives are completely lacking today for upgrading to IPv6, the next generation Internet protocol, according to a survey of network operators conducted by the Internet Society (ISOC).

In a new report, ISOC says that ISPs, enterprises and network equipment vendors report that there are "no concrete business drivers for IPv6.''

However, survey respondents said customer demand for IPv6 is on the rise and that they are planning or deploying IPv6 because they feel it is the next major development in the evolution of the Internet.

ISOC released its survey on the same day that Google is sponsoring a [two-day conference] in the US for IPv6 implementers and a few days before it is hosting a panel on IPv6 adoption in San Francisco. 

IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4. IPv6 was created by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a standards body that receives funding from ISOC.

IPv6 is needed because the Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support approximately 4.3 billion individually addressed devices on the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and can support so many devices that only a mathematical expression -- 2 to the 128th power -- can quantify its size.

Experts predict IPv4 addresses will be gone by 2012. At that point, all ISPs, government agencies and corporations will need to support IPv6 on their backbone networks. Today, only a handful of U.S. organizations -- including the US federal government and a few leading-edge companies like Bechtel -- have deployed IPv6 across their networks. All of the ISOC survey respondents said they are planning for IPv6, and most have begun deployment.

IPv6 deployment remains spotty, even for organizations committed to the technology, the survey found. When asked how they were deploying IPv6, a little over half said they were deploying IPv6 on parts of their network rather than their whole network. Several respondents said they envision parts of their networks never operating with IPv6.

The survey respondents didn't indicate that they are worried about running out of IPv4 addresses. Only one of the survey respondents is closely tracking its IPv4 address usage, saying that it needs 130,000 new IPv4 addresses every three years. Most of the respondents said they will increase their use of network address translation (NAT) technology if they can't get more IPv4 addresses.

What's driving network operators to IPv6 is demand from customers rather than IPv4 address depletion, the survey found. Almost half of the respondents report customer pressure to migrate to IPv6. Fewer respondents indicated a need for additional address space or the desire for simpler addressing or less complexity on their networks.

More than half of the survey respondents said that additional address space is the primary motivator for IPv6. Network operators put less weight on the auto-configuration, built-in security and mobility features that are found in IPv6.

Several respondents commented about "how much easier they found configuring the IPv6 parts of their network compared to what they expected,'' the ISOC report said. Others commented that "deployment of IPv6 was relatively straightforward.''

Most survey respondents said they are implementing IPv6 on internal and external networks. The majority said they are using a dual-stack approach, which allows IPv4 and IPv6 to run side-by-side. Fewer respondents chose tunneling, which allows IPv6 traffic to be carried in a tunnel on an IPv4 backbone.

Survey respondents said the biggest challenges they face in deploying IPv6 is a lack of technical expertise on staff followed by limited carrier and vendor support and limited security mechanisms.

Another concern cited in the survey was the lack of IPv6 support in applications and network management systems.

ISOC conducted the survey of how its 90 organizational members -- including ISPs, Internet exchange point operators, enterprises, national research networks, network equipment vendors and network software vendors -- via questionnaire. Twenty-two organizations responded.

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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