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Perspectives: A new internet protocol

"What was fascinating about the results, however, was the light they shed on some of the business practices of many of the world’s largest companies."


alan cane, business journalist, financial times

Alan CaneFinancial Times24 February 2012


Recent research across three continents – the Americas, Europe and Asia – and involving some 216 senior executives reveals not entirely unexpected agreement on the principal trends affecting organisations. Jointly at the top of the list were the financial crisis and regulatory pressures, followed closely by information and data security, customer service expectations and more distantly, globalisation.

Further down the list came population ageing, the socialisation of the internet, climate change and the challenge of new technologies.

While it was not mentioned explicitly in the research, this latter challenge is likely to encompass the move from the present internet protocol, version 4 (IPv4) to version 6 (IPv6). June 6 this year, has been chosen by the Internet Society for internet service providers, web companies and networking equipment suppliers to demonstrate their commitment to IPv6.

The research, lead by Peter Siggins of PA Consulting Group, is aimed at emphasising the importance of “smart” technologies such as smart phones and smart meters to modern business. Its conclusion, that companies that exploit these technologies can stay a step ahead of their competitors – is incontestable.

What was fascinating about the results, however, was the light they shed on some of the business practices of many of the world’s largest companies.

For example, educating and training staff to deal with the new pressures is not high on many companies’ agendas: “Our survey found that just 11 per cent of organisations are focused on training and developing staff in order to address global trends” the research notes.

"Linked to this, was the finding that a big obstacle to implementing a smart technology programme was a reluctance among middle management to embrace change – especially where the automation of previously manual processes threatened their role and status.

"Front line staff were less entrenched, it found: “Those in direct contact with customers are more likely to be enthusiastic about using new technology that can make their work easier and more satisfying".

More worrying, however, was evidence that there is little agreement at a senior level on business priorities in many companies: “It was clear from our survey that in many organisations there is no consensus internally at senior level on what is important for business.

"For example, while 71 per cent of chief information officers believe that information and data security is one of the most significant trends affecting their organisation, only 40 per cent of chief executive officers agreed. In fact, the financial crisis was the only trend on which chief executive and their directors were in agreement in terms of its significance".

None of which suggests the change from IPv4 to IPv6 will be particularly smooth. It is, however, essential. Data centres that fail to make the change will find it impossible to connect to some Cloud resources and their ability to communicate will fall away.

Internet protocol provides the pool of internet addresses. Version 4 is now essentially depleted. Version 6 provides an almost unlimited supply – enough to connect virtually everything in the universe to the internet.

But as the IPv6 evangelist Owen Delong, noted recently, there are more advantages to the new protocol than a surfeit of addresses.

He points out that IPv4 suffers from “inefficient routing and packet processing, indirect data flows, overly complex network configuration and feeble security”. Indeed, it is something of a miracle that the internet functions as well as it does.

IPv6, however, should introduce improved routing efficiency, reduce router processing, enable true peer-to-peer connectivity and eliminate complex layers of indirection such as network address translation (NAT), Mr Delong argues.

The companies that will be demonstrating support for IPv6 on June 6 will include AT&T, KDDI, the Japanese telecoms operator, Cisco Systems, D-Link, the networking company, and Facebook, Google and Microsoft Bing.

A high percentage of companies are planning to shift some or most of their IT activities to the Cloud over the next several years, underlining the importance of a smooth transition to IPv6. But it will not necessarily be an easy task for some data centres faced with running “dual stack” IPv4 and IPv6 systems until the new protocol is “bedded in”.

They will have to have all their ducks – for which read business priorities – neatly in line. The evidence from the PA survey, and it is worth asking how many chief executives are even aware of the IPv6 issue, suggests many will struggle.


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