With billions of devices coming online, cloud providers better get with IPv6 program

As we enter the internet of things era, with millions; check that, billions of devices coming online, we’re going to need a lot more unique IP addresses. That means the big cloud providers need to get on the stick to support IPv6, the internet protocol that opens up billions of new addresses for just that purpose.

Thus far (and sort of surprising to me) Microsoft(s msft)Azure does not support IPv6 yet. Nor does Google(s goog) Compute Engine although the company “is a major advocate of IPv6 and it is an important future direction.” (Maybe some news to come in the weeks running up to Google I/O?)

Public cloud leader Amazon(s amzn) Web Services is still on IPv4 except for its Elastic Load Balance (ELB)  service. IBM(s ibm) SoftLayer, on the other hand, has supported IPv6 for a few years and the upcoming Verizon(s vz) Cloud, due the second half of this year, will as well.

The need is clear — Gartner estimates that 26 billion devices will be online by 2020 , a 30 times increase from the 900 million connected devices in 2009. The address registries, including the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), and its analogues in Asia, Europe and Latin America, have warned about impending “IPv4 address exhaustion.”

The challenges that the device population explosion pose to cloud providers and the very architecture of data centers will be a hot topic next week at Structure.

ipv6So how hard is it to move from IPv4 to IPv6? It doesn’t necessarily require a wholesale upgrade of networking hardware and software, but it’s still a bear.

“The challenge is that systems are complex and architectures and applications are often broadly interconnected. You have to turn over a lot of rocks in your own systems to see what is underneath – what equipment and software do you have, and what does/does not support IPv6?,” said David Belson, senior director of industry data and intelligence for Akamai(s akam). “You also need to consider all of the organizations, applications, and infrastructures that you connect to – where are your partners at with respect to IPv6 readiness and support in the hardware and software that they use within their business?”

As if that’s not enough, organizations also have to figure out which of their system components deal with IP addresses and “anything that does validation, geolocation, or handles log files may expect to get no more than 15 characters (the length of an IPv4 ‘dotted quad’ address), and now with IPv6 addresses, may get a string that can be much longer, or may vary in length depending on how it is written,” he added.

That affects now much storage space is needed for log files or database field definitions. The bottom line is companies need to plan this out in advance, but then again this is not an unforeseen event. My bet is in coming months we’ll see a spate of news from cloud providers.

This story was updated at 12:33 p.m. PDT with comment from Akamai’s David Belson for additional context.