How would you like it if customers had to log in at your e-commerce site over and over during the same session? Or if you couldn’t tell where site visitors were from? What would you think if you sounded as if you had a speech impediment during a streaming-video press conference?
Those are just a few examples, among many, of the troubles that could befall companies for a period of days, weeks, or even months sometime during 2011 if they don’t act soon to reconfigure their public-facing Web servers.
The source of the problem is the impending exhaustion of the unique numbers (or addresses) within the long-established Internet protocol that Internet service providers (ISPs) assign for every Website and most connected devices.
Sometime next year, the global Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and its five regional authorities will run out of the approximately 4.3 billion numbers in the Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) address space. When that happens, ISPs will begin receiving numbers associated with the successor protocol, IPv6, to dole out to customers.
Unfortunately, a computer with an IPv6 connection will not be able to communicate directly with an IPv4 Website. ISPs are likely to provide gateways allowing such access, but a connection through a gateway probably won’t perform nearly as well as users have come to expect, says John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which provides IP numbers to ISPs in North America.
Websites with complex customer-care or e-commerce capabilities and those providing video streams are particularly at risk. “We don’t know how well those things are going to work with customers coming in through a gateway,” says Curran. “It should be a high priority for companies to assess whether they should get an IPv6 connection.”
Reconfiguring servers to accommodate IPv6 traffic doesn’t necessarily entail a huge amount of labor but could require time-consuming coordination with other parties. In addition to ordering new Internet service from the ISP, which will have its own reconfiguration work to perform, the company will have to work with any outside contractors that provide applications for the Website.
Given cooperation from its ISP, a company that has very well-designed Web applications, does everything in-house, and knows how everything works could probably turn on IPv6 quickly even if it is caught off guard. “But most companies aren’t like that,” says Curran. “You have to explain to contractors what you want done and wait for them to give you a quote and do the work.” In addition, old firewall equipment may have to be replaced.
ARIN does not know exactly when the supply of IPv4 numbers will run out, but says it will certainly happen in 2011. That means the time to make the necessary changes is growing short. For large companies with many public-facing servers and complex Websites, the process could well take months, according to Curran.