Who's afraid of IPv4 address depletion? Apparently no one.

Network managers aren’t worried enough to migrate to IPv6, survey finds

Only 16% of IT professionals consider IPv4 address depletion ``a huge concern that has or will soon force us to migrate to IPv6,’’ according to a BT INS survey of 310 IT professionals that was conducted in December 2007.

Who’s afraid of IPv4 address depletion? Not IT professionals, according to a new survey due this week by BT INS, a Mountain View, Calif. consulting firm. 

Listen to a podcast with John Curran, chairman of the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN), who updates the status of the IPv4 address space and explains why companies really need to start looking at supporting IPv6.

Only 16% of IT professionals consider IPv4 address depletion ``a huge concern that has or will soon force us to migrate to IPv6,’’ according to a BT INS survey of 310 IT professionals that was conducted in December 2007. 

A whopping 26% of IT professionals felt IPv4 address depletion was ``no concern.’’ These survey respondents said they can use network address translation combined with VPNs to alleviate the problem.

The majority of respondents -- 58% -- said they had some concern about IPv4 address depletion but ``not enough by itself to cause us to migrate to IPv6 in the near term.’’

The survey results confirm what BT INS officials said they are seeing in the market: faint interest among IT professionals in IPv6 and weak demand for IPv6 products.

``IT professionals see no compelling benefit to IPv6,’’ says Rick Blum, director of strategic marketing with BT INS. ``IPv6 has a number of advantages including security and autoconfiguration, but none of these is compelling enough at this point for people to move. IPv4 address depletion would be the primary reason, but in North America we have much better availability of IPv4 addresses so that wouldn’t be true.’’

IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet’s main communications protocol, IPv4. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support around 4 billion IP addresses. IPv6 uses a 128-bit addressing scheme and can support so many billions of IP addresses that the number is too big for anyone but a mathematician to understand. (IPv6 supports 2 to the 128th power of IP addresses.)

The Internet Engineering Task Force designed IPv6 in the mid-1990s to expand the available IP address space. The standards body added features such as built-in security through IPSec and easier network management through autoconfiguration to encourage network managers to upgrade their networks to IPv6.

During 2007, the threat of IPv4 address depletion came back to the forefront as the main reason for upgrading to IPv6. With 6 billion people on the planet and 1.3 billion already online, experts say that IPv4 addresses will run out soon.

The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) warned in May 2007 that IPv4 address depletion was looming, and the group said it would actively encourage migration to IPv6.

RIPE, the European Internet registry, followed in October with its own warning that IPv4 addresses would run out by 2011.

Indeed, the Internet is littered with sites that show how many days are left until we run out of IPv4 addresses. The current estimate is around 1,600 days.

The Internet engineering community continues to push for IPv6. Earlier this week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) added support for IPv6 into half the Internet’s root servers.

But the fear of IPv4 address depletion apparently hasn’t caught on with most IT professionals.

``Over the last year, we’ve been hearing about IPv4 address depletion, but the survey shows that it’s not having an impact,’’ Blum says.

Folks who are concerned about IPv4 address depletion tend to work for carriers or extremely large organizations, the BT INS survey found. For instance, 32% of the survey respondents who work for service providers and 29% of those who work for companies with more than 100,000 IP addresses said IPv4 address depletion was a ``huge concern.’’

BT INS officials found even these responses lower than expected.

``I was surprised that only 32% of service providers -- which are those organizations that are going to be impacted first by IPv4 address depletion -- are really concerned about it,’’ says Tim Rooney, director of product management with BT Diamond IP, a division of BT that sells IP address management products. ``This mirrors what we’re seeing here, which is low demand for our IPv6 products.’’

In general, Europeans are more concerned about IPv4 address depletion than Americans, with 24% of survey respondents based in Europe saying that IPv4 address depletion is a ``huge concern.’’

The reason why many IT professionals in North America aren’t worried about IPv4 address depletion is that they were lucky enough to get large blocks of IP address space at the dawn of the Internet.

``IPv4 addresses aren’t perishable. Once I have an IPv4 address, I have it. So unless or until I am expanding my network and I’m demanding more public IP address space, I probably don’t perceive IPv4 address depletion as an issue,’’ Rooney explains.

So far, few organizations have taken the plunge and begun upgrading their networks to support IPv6.

Only 2% of IT professionals have migrated to IPv6 across their organizations, while 8% are in the process of migrating to IPv6, the BT INS survey found.

BT INS said these findings are almost identical to a similar survey the company conducted in 2005.

``The survey results are not a whole lot different than they were two years ago,’’ Blum says. ``Back then, 11% of respondents said they had migrated or were in the process of migrating to IPv6. Now that number is 10%.’’

Another 15% of survey respondents said they will begin migrating to IPv6 within the next two years.

However, the majority of respondents have no plans to migrate to IPv6. Of these, 13% said they have assessed IPv6 and decided not to migrate for at least two more years. Another 33% said they are currently assessing IPv6 but no migration decision has been made. And 25% said they have not even considered IPv6.

When asked why they are not migrating to IPv6, 40% of survey respondents say that the new protocol offers ``no compelling benefits.’’

In addition, 23% say they are not concerned about depletion of IPv4 addresses ``in the near future.’’

Other reasons cited for putting off the migration to IPv6 are that it’s too complex or too costly.

``Eventually the Internet registries are going to run out of IPv4 address space, and new companies are going to have to go to IPv6,’’ Rooney predicts. ``That will drive others to expose their networks at least externally to IPv6, which will drive further migrations.’’

On the plus side, IT professionals see value in many features of IPv6. More than 75% of survey respondents said IPv6 features such as built-in security, better quality of service, expanded address space and routing enhancements were extremely or somewhat valuable.

But IT professionals say they need more evidence of the bottom-line business benefits associated with IPv6 in order to deploy it.

When asked what would help them convince upper management to deploy IPv6, 24% said case studies showing a positive return on investment for IPv6, 22% said case studies linking IPv6 solutions to business drivers, and 18% said case studies showing how IPv6 helped a company achieve a competitive advantage.

In contrast, only 9% of survey respondents said evidence that IPv4 address depletion was imminent would persuade upper management to upgrade to IPv6.

``You need a business reason to make this investment,’’ Rooney says, adding that he believes the lack of IPv6-enabled applications is slowing down the migration to the new protocol. ``Having applications that take advantage of IPv6 applications for ad hoc networking, mobility, manufacturing, transportation and public safety will provide new business opportunities that would perhaps be a driver from an industry perspective.’’

In general, IT professionals are slightly less enthusiastic about IPv6 than they were two years ago. The number of IT professionals who believe IPv6 is mature enough to deploy dropped from 70% in 2005 to 68% in 2007. The number of IT professionals who said that IPv6 has value but doesn’t link to business drivers rose from 58% in 2005 to 69% in 2007. And the number of IT professionals who said there is not a strong enough return on investment for IPv6 rose from 71% in 2005 to 73% in 2007.

Most telling, though, is the rise in the number of IT professionals who don’t see any need to upgrade to IPv6. The number of survey respondents who said IPv6 does not provide benefits to their network infrastructures rose from 33% in 2005 to 49% in 2007.

``The larger service providers that we deal with are definitely moving to IPv6. The cable industry is going in that direction and the wireless carriers…But most enterprises have no concrete plans,’’ Rooney says. `` It’s going to be a slow evolution.’’

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