IPv6: opportunity, or a pain in the network?

If you haven’t been asked about your plans for IPv6 yet – it’s only a matter of time.

There’s a general level of awareness among IT leaders that the internet is running out of addresses. You may have read, and noted away in the back of your mind, that the existing IPv4 standard has run out of new addresses, but it probably hasn’t hit you because your ISP has a stockpile to keep you happy.

You will have to migrate your network infrastructure to support IPv6 before long – but as with so many technical transitions, this could be seen as an administrative and operational pain, or an opportunity.

If you’re among the latter group, you’ll know that IPv6 is likely to be the catalyst for the next phase of growth for the internet. Its near-limitless address space is going to enable all sorts of new services. Research from Cisco predicts a 22-fold increase in machine-to-machine traffic on the internet over the next five years, as the so-called “internet of things” becomes an everyday reality. That’s going to happen because of IPv6.

Sensor networks, smart meters, surveillance systems, and services we’ve yet to think of will all gain new levels of capability and functionality, as almost every electronic “thing” has an IP address and simple communications.

Of course, this is all going to present huge new challenges for IT professionals. Think about all the data being generated – much of it provided in open formats, freely available to all to use as you choose. Think of the vast quantities of real-time information that will become available to decision-makers. How is your infrastructure going to make use of that, and enable your boardroom to make the decisions that will determine success or failure? If you don’t, your competitors will.

Think too of the security implications. We’ve already seen reports of the first IPv6 denial of service attacks, which tells us that the cybercriminal community is ahead of you in testing what IPv6 is going to mean. Have you planned for how IPv6 will affect your IT security?

IT managers face two choices with IPv6: try to convince your board that you need the cash for a costly transition, simply because it has to be done, Y2K-style. Or understand the opportunities and innovations that could deliver competitive advantage for your organisation. Take your pick.

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