Are You Ready for the Next Internet?


By Tony Kontzer

So it turns out this Internet thing is a bit behind the times, and we're all running on an old version, and CIOs need to get up to speed on this. Allow me to explain.

Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist and the man credited with inventing Internet protocol (IP), has said that CIOs need to be ready for IP version 6, and that if they're not, they need to figure out what to do to fix that. Apparently, IP version 4, the one most of the Internet's running on now, is facing a bit of an address crunch that threatens the existence of the Net as we know it.

"The Internet cannot continue to grow effectively without the new address space" supplied by IPv6, says Cerf. "We're going to run out of IPv4 address space somewhere around 2011, and that's not very long from now in terms of preparing a fully operational IPv6 system running concurrently with IPv4."

The main difference between the two versions is that IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, whereas IPv4 uses 32 bits. The upshot is that IPv6 is more flexible when it comes to allocating addresses and routing traffic, and it eliminates the need for network address translation, a modification process that was widely adopted as a way to slow the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses.

It would seem to be in the business world's interest to get IPv6 adoption on the fast track, so why is it that 10 years after it was designated as the successor to IPv4 by the Internet Engineering Task Force, IPv6 is still languishing? Let's start with the fact that companies have to re-engineer their networks to be compatible with IPv6 and deploy new IPv6-enabled security and system management products, two areas that are supposed to be improved greatly by IPv6. In an economy like the one we're mired in now, companies aren't eager to pour huge sums of money into IT infrastructure investments.

No matter, says Cerf. Companies need to get on board regardless of the needed investments. "It's absolutely critical that our business sector, the private sector, be prepared for operation of both IPv6 and IPv4," he says.

Perhaps the private sector should look to the public sector for inspiration. According to publications like Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News, growing numbers of federal entities are rapidly becoming IPv6-ready. The U.S. Air Force is preparing to turn on its IPv6 network; the Department of Defense's Joint Interoperability Test Command is now ensuring that all technologies are IPv6-compliant before adding them to the DOD's approved product list; and the Defense Information Systems Agency already has begun planning specific projects that can't run on IPv4.

And, of course, Google is doing its part, letting companies that have an IPv6 network in place make use of Google services on IPv6-enabled Web sites. (Somehow the fact that Google is out in front on this along with the military only strengthens my supposition that it will emerge as the next great defense contractor, but that's a topic for a future post.)

So, the question before all of you CIOs out there is clear: Where are you in your IPv6 adoption? If you don't have a good answer, then I think I speak for Cerf when I say you better get one.