Study: IPv6 features wanted, but ROI seen lacking

IT professionals are interested in the additional authentication and security services built into IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol. However, few IT shops have committed to migrating to IPv6 because it lacks a measurable return on investment, according to a recent survey of more than 200 IT professionals conducted by consulting firm INS.

IPv6 was created a decade ago by the Internet Engineering Task Force to ward off an anticipated address space crunch with IPv4, the Internet's current protocol. IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports an almost limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 supports only a few billion systems because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme.

Now it turns out that the other features of IPv6 -- built-in security via IPSec, easier administration and improved quality of service -- are garnering more interest than the protocol's enhanced addressing scheme. Indeed, one of the reasons IPv6 has been slow to catch on is that IPv4 address space is still widely available.

In the recent survey, 56 percent of respondents consider the authentication and security services available with IPv6 to be very important and more than 90 percent of respondents ranked this feature either very important or somewhat important. Similarly, more than 90 percent of respondents ranked the quality of service benefits of IPv6 to be very important or somewhat important.

The other features of IPv6 -- more efficient packet routing, expanded address space, autoconfiguration, simplified headers and flow labels -- were rated less important to respondents. However, all of these features received a very important or somewhat important ranking by more than 70 percent of respondents.

Despite their interest in the new features available with IPv6, few IT shops have committed to migrating to the new protocol. Only 2 percent of respondents have migrated to IPv6 across their organizations while 11 percent are in the process of migrating or will migrate within the next 12 months.

Of the remaining respondents, 39 percent have assessed the benefits of IPv6 but have not begun migration, 13 percent have decided not to migrate within the next two years and 8 percent will not start migrating in the next three years. More than a quarter of the respondents have not even considered IPv6.

What's holding IT shops back from migrating to IPv6 is a lack of return on investment, the survey found. Most respondents -- 70 percent -- agree that IPv6 is a mature enough technology to deploy with confidence. However, 71 percent of respondents say there is not a strong enough ROI to deploy IPv6. Similarly, 58 percent of respondents say that it has value but does not link to business drivers.

"This combo (both weak ROI and business-driver link) is likely to be, more than anything else, the key factors behind the slow adoption curve for IPv6," INS says.

The survey found that the biggest hurdles to IPv6 deployment continue to be the complexity of an infrastructure upgrade and the concern about converting existing applications and middleware. Equipment costs are also a barrier, as is the perception that the only benefit of IPv6 is expanded address space. Retraining and network management headaches were of little concern to respondents.

INS conducted its Web-based survey on IPv6 in October and November of 2005. The 200-plus respondents were primarily from North America -- 68 percent -- but 15 percent were from Europe and 10 percent from Asia.

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World
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