IT managers have enjoyed a long, long runway for dealing with the reality and likely impacts of IPv4 exhaustion.
There are many reasons for this. First among these of course is the ubiquity of NAT, whose operational complexity and costs are ignored because of its familiarity.
Next is that the depletion of IPv4 addresses has been happening slowly enough that any concerns of operational impact requiring serious risk analysis and mitigation have stayed just under the level of crisis.
Add to this the fact that as IT practice is undergoing a generational paradigm shift. It is fragmenting and decentralizing as more and more enterprises consume or build cloud solutions and leverage the maturity of virtualization technology.
But this parochial reality for enterprises has done nothing to actually slow the exhaustion of IPv4 or the uptake of IPv6 by service providers. 2015 will be the year when the combination of total IPv4 exhaustion in North America along with watershed levels of IPv6 traffic (and the underlying operational practice to support it) will spill into the public consciousness.
Combined with continuing attention on trends in mobile and IoT, the risk to Internet growth and innovation will compel enterprise IT management to have a clear IPv6 message with a mature (or maturing) policy to back it up.
Growth of IPv6 in the US
Last year saw major growth of IPv6 adoption in the US. One of the biggest but most underreported stories of the year was the explosive growth of IPv6 traffic levels at major mobile and broadband Internet service providers.
Recent measurements by Cisco showing 14% of all traffic to Google arriving over IPv6 is doubtless due to this uptake of IPv6 by these large providers. In fact, this particular measurement has increased by over 4% in just the last few months.
At last year’s North American IPv6 Summit, Alain Fiocco (head of Cisco’s IPv6 program and excellent 6lab project) offered the prediction that continued growth will lead those same traffic levels to 25% by the end of this year.
And IPv6 Essentials author and leader of the Swiss IPv6 Council Silvia Hagen has predicted based on her own analysis that we’re likely to see worldwide IPv6 traffic to Google grow to 50% by the end of 2017.
IPv4: Going, Going, Gone
Meanwhile, according to Geoff Huston, the expansion of the Internet as measured by allocations of public IPv4 address space was slow in 2014 at a 1.8% relative annual growth rate. This continues the trend from 2013 when the rate was 1.9% (down from a peak of 8.8% just 7 years ago in 2008).
The current prediction for total exhaustion of IPv4 in North America is for sometime around April of this year (2 months from now!).
The rate at which providers can operationally scale IPv6 architectures in time to support the impending tsunami of new devices requiring Internet connectivity in some form will prove highly variable.
But any short to medium-term operational volatility resulting from such growth pains will likely pale in comparison to the increasingly brittle and costly attempts to keep IPv4 viable through NAT.
The exhaustion of IPv4 and the complexity and cost of efforts to keep it viable, the challenge of scaling and reaching operational maturity of IPv6 offerings, these factors will conspire to impede the continued explosive growth of mobile along with the promise of IoT deployments.
The IT Story of 2015?
It’s very likely that both the technology and mainstream media will begin to publicize this resulting downward pressure on Internet growth and innovation. This publicity will include some variation of the themes mentioned above.
Pressure on IT management to clearly explain their IPv6 strategy was only ever going to increase in 2015.
But the audience for this critical message may now expand to include both shareholders and the public at large. This is the year the media may drive an increasing and avid interest in, if not IPv6 itself, then the threat to the growth of the Internet with IPv6 identified as the biggest part of the solution.
The resulting scrutiny may prove particularly unwelcome one to those organizations who have neglected to create any IPv6 strategy at all.*
*(If nothing else, we can probably look forward to the shopworn quip “So whatever happened to IPv5?” falling from the lips of the public at large. So when you’re fixing Uncle Bob’s malware-infected laptop this Thanksgiving and he tries it out on you be sure you’re prepared with a courteous chuckle.)