IPv6, The Final Frontier: The real problem is not your network. It’s your people.

August 9, 2010

Salar de Uyuni

You must have seen the memo by now. Yes,  that’s it – we’re running out of numbers.

If you’re in the Internet connectivity business (and you’ve had your head in the sand) you’ve got a big problem. The exhaustion of IPv4 is clearly a business continuity issue, but not only for the infrastructural reasons you’re thinking of.

As I write this only 5.5% of IPv4 address space remains unallocated. The sequence of events that will occur as we approach the zero hour and beyond is now fairly well understood. We will see several stages of depletion, by the end of which vintage address space will become a highly valued commodity on the black market, possibly resulting in a Mad Max type scenario with everyone  scavenging for IPs in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Enter IPv6. The last logical addressing scheme we’ll ever need; the saviour of the Internet, that has been patiently sitting around for two decades, waiting for someone to show it some love.

The discussion thus far has been focused on three areas:

  1. Whether IPv6 will ever ‘take off’.  It will.  If you don’t believe this then what you’re actually saying is that the Internet will just stop growing, in which case you should start hanging out with these guys.
  2. Countdown updates, accompanied by articles on how silly everyone is for not taking action sooner.  We do of course all understand the lack of business case. “Markets trumps technology. And politics trumps markets” as Craig Labovitz said in this post .
  3. The best way to crowbar IPv6 into our IPv4 world and make it play nicely. No, translation really isn’t going to solve this. Get to used to dual-stack. If two parties who speak different languages want to converse properly, one of those parties needs to become bi-lingual.

Talking about the technical deployment, or lack thereof, is all well and good, but everyone seems to be ignoring a key issue here.  I’m talking about the changes required in another core asset, the one you can’t upgrade so easily:

People.

The world has been using IPv4 for three decades. Those dotted decimal numbers are all the IT industry have ever known. Network engineers work on instincts developed through experience; they know how to provision IPv4 services quickly and what to look for when solving a fault. The concepts and mechanics of IPv4 are ingrained into their minds and many of these habits will not carry over to IPv6.

Do you think providers can train their entire support staff up to the IPv4-equivalent standard overnight? Of course not. The ability of these teams to function efficiently is built on real-world experience on real-world operational networks. The problem is that hardly anyone has a production IPv6 network yet. Everyone is waiting for the party to get started.

There is a big skills gap that will become apparent once ISPs start selling and supporting IPv6 services. A number of competent support engineers I know have tried reading the book we’ve all seen lying around. They didn’t get very far.  My own eyes glazed over during chapter two.  It’s a difficult, dry subject for most people to digest easily, perhaps with the exception of a few highly driven senior techies – the ones who are waiting to be given the go-ahead on IPv6 rollout.

This isn’t your everyday network upgrade. It’s not just an isolated extension of things people already understand. This is an entirely new logical overlay and it affects the whole network and all the systems on it. Imagine the effect of having all support issues on new services, however trivial, immediately escalated to the top of the support chain. I don’t think those senior engineers will be doing much else.

ISPs are rapidly approaching the day when their IPv4 networks start to become ‘legacy’. The evangelists are telling them that if they haven’t started technical deployment then it’s already too late.  Maybe it’s time we added another item  to the to-do list: “address skills gap”.

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3 Responses to “IPv6, The Final Frontier: The real problem is not your network. It’s your people.”

  1. John Spence Says:

    Indeed, these are excellent points. It takes a long time to get an organization really making progress on even undertaking an IPv6 project, and the skill level of the people is critical. Competent and motivated IPv4 engineers can pick up IPv4, but it takes awhile to learn the basics, and longer to gain the insights needed to deploy in an already-built, complex, constantly-changing production network. Time is short. Get people into training classes. Get them a little hands-on opportunity. And give them a real, modest, important IPv6 project to make happen.


  2. […] The Final Frontier: why ISPs are underestimating the business continuity issue of IPv4 depleti… […]


  3. Well said! As you state, some of the most oft overlooked harm being done by not deploying IPv6 before others is the lack of real-world experience.

    Some of us are trying to help bridge that gap with a new site that aims to link IPv6 experts with those who need them; for training, subnet planning, network design, equipment configuration, readiness testing, etc, etc.

    Check it out: http://www.theIPv6experts.net.


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