There’s a transition happening on the Internet that could cause significant disruption of services for your customers if handled incorrectly or not at all, and this disruption is of “hair pulling” caliber. IT calls you and tells you that tomorrow–or worse, in one hour–your website will be down for an unknown amount of time. When your website goes down, your business goes down. Even if you are not selling directly online, that is where your future revenue is engaging with you, and “Site Temporarily Unavailable” is not the kind of impression you want to make.
This disruption is due to some fundamental growing pains being experienced by the Internet. Many years ago when it was created by a team working for the Defense Department’s DARPA program, Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4, was put in use to handle all Internet traffic. Individuals who logged on were assigned an IP address, and the developers built IPv4 with the capability to handle around 4 billion individual IP addresses. At the time it was assumed that was more than enough for this “experiment,” and as Vint Cerf, former program manager for DARPA put it, “The experiment never ended.” Now, with IP addresses running out worldwide, the Internet is ready to move to Internet Version IPv6, a new Internet Protocol capable of handling hundreds of trillions of new IP addresses. With the total number of worldwide Internet users currently eclipsing 2 billion people, and the proliferation of Internet-enabled devices (tablets, mobile phones, home appliances etc), each requiring a unique IP address, it’s not hard to understand why. An IP address, or an Internet Protocol address, is a numerical code that serves as an identifier for an Internet server, and every server has a unique address, much like a fingerprint is a unique identifier to each person.
This change from IPv4 to IPv6 is an unavoidable necessity, and none of the risks mentioned are insurmountable with the right preparation. However, according to a recent report done by Ipswitch, 88% of business networks appear to be unprepared for it. Are you one of those businesses? How should online marketers and their staff deal with this encroaching and important issue? Should you be concerned that your online strategies will fall into the proverbial black hole if your vendors and internal IT departments don’t have their ducks in a row?
IPv6: PERFORMANCE AND RELIABILITY ISSUES
No marketer today can afford to have their website down unnecessarily, or their user experience degraded. All of those interactions are too critical to revenue. If there are problems, marketing is going to hear about it. As your IT department prepares to deal with this transition, they will need to put in place new technologies to handle the new IPv6 traffic (see: Transitional Technologies). If marketers are proactive and address the transition with their IT departments, they can avoid having to deal with a customer, or management, backlash that there is a problem with the website.
There won’t be one “magic day” when all Internet traffic suddenly converts over to IPv6, the shift will be gradual and take place over many years. As IT departments prepare for the transition from one Internet protocol to another, and attempt to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic at the same time, there could be some performance and reliability issues. These may include one or more of the following:
- Poor or degraded service or website performance
- Denial of service
- Reliability issues due to weaker network connections and monitoring
- Broken applications (VoIP services, Geo-locating services)
- Lack of reporting and analytics tied to IPv6 addresses
While it’s impossible to say exactly what will happen for each specific business, if anything at all, organizations need to prepare now to deal with potential issues. The better prepared your organization is for the transition to IPv6, the better you will be able to mitigate these performance and reliability issues.
The good news is there is also an upside of IPv6 for marketers—what do we stand to gain?
THE UPSIDE: Granularity
As we move toward IPv4 address depletion, ISPs have needed to aggregate IP addresses to handle the demand. So, for example, a bank with many branches is often identified as one IP address, and multiple companies may even be “hidden” behind one address. What this means for online marketers is that you lose the granularity necessary to identify the companies visiting your website, personalize experiences and content, and optimize lead flows.
As more companies begin to adopt IPv6, marketers will have greater granularity when identifying the website traffic – from various businesses, office locations and devices – hitting websites. Particularly for the B2B marketer, being able to identify the companies engaging with you enables tremendous personalization (finally). As IPv6 rolls out, there will be enough addresses for each business and branch to be identified by its own specific IP address. As a result, marketers will be able to gain better insight into their customers, deliver more personalized website experiences, and drive higher website conversion.
So, what are some easy steps marketers can take right now?
TIME TO TALK TO IT
The first thing marketing professionals need to do is get together with IT. Start with the question ‘which parts of my business will be impacted by the transition?’ What mission critical tools do you use that depend on IP addresses? Are they integrated on the browser-side or the server-side? This integration will define whether your company must be IPv6 compliant for the technologies to continue to effectively operate during the transition (see: Integration). Present this list of mission critical tools to your IT department. Are they IPv6 ready? If not, how will that impact your programs, and do you have workarounds to address those issues?
UNDERSTAND THAT THE TRANSITION TO IPV6 DEPENDS ON PEOPLE OUTSIDE YOUR COMPANY AS WELL
Internet Network protocols are built as “stacks,” where a number of layers each provide a part of the required functionality to make everything run. The transition to IPv6 doesn’t just depend on your internal IT departments but, rather, on multiple vendors that are powering your business. Hosting providers, networking equipment vendors, operating systems, Web servers, home-grown applications, and databases will ALL need to convert to IPv6 in order for your organization to be truly IPv6 compatible. In addition to worrying about your website or specific web-based applications – which live at the top layer of the “stack” – companies must first ensure that the “bottom” of the stack (including hosts, network providers, etc.) is being converted over to IPv6.
FIND YOUR TIPPING POINT
Another crucial question businesses need to ask themselves is “at what point will we need to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneously?” When is the moment when the percentage of IPv6 visitors becomes high enough that ignoring them will hurt your business? For some companies, any loss of traffic will be unacceptable; for others, the cost of implementing IPv6-related changes will not be worth it until a “critical mass” situation presents itself. Meaning, enough IPv6 is being LOST by your lack of transition that it will become necessary to put steps in place to handle that traffic. Most companies will likely adopt a “dual stack” approach to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic.
NOW IS THE TIME TO START PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Right now Regional Internet Authorities (RIRs) around the world are already running out of IPv4 addresses. Although most traffic by far still runs over IPv4 with only 1% running on IPv6 according to a recent report by Arbor Networks, Major organizations’ IT departments are already preparing for this change. It’s time to figure out where your IT department stands.
Whether you are prepared or not, the new protocol is taking charge, and businesses will be wise to take the necessary steps to handle this change now in order to avoid disruption to their web sites. Those that do will undoubtedly be in much better shape when IPv6 is adopted on a mass scale. Ultimately, the adoption of IPv6 will help the Internet and the countless businesses it enables to run more efficiently. So be aware, be ready, and communicate. The quicker you start preparing for v6, the better off you’ll be when that tipping point is reached.
Author: Martin Longo is CTO of Demandbase