The government looks unlikely to win any friends with its refusal to dispose of valuable “unused” IP addresses. But it is right to stick to its guns.
The issue has hit the headlines this week thanks to an alert from John Graham-Cummings that the Department for Work and Pensions was sitting on a block of allocated address space, seemingly without use for it.
Graham-Cummings is a man that knows how to mobilise public support, having previously won widespread public interest for his petition against the government treatment of computer pioneer Alan Turning for his homosexuality. So it was no surprise that within hours of Graham-Cummings blogging about his find, people were calling on the government to sell its block of 16.8 million addresses.
The DWP is, however, right to resist.
Sure, its argument that it is using the addresses – albeit internally – might not be the greatest. And while there are indeed practical problems that stand in the way of a sale, one imagines they are not insurmountable.
The government would, however, send out all of the wrong signals if it were to submit to the sell-off demands.
There's little doubt that the world is running out of IPv4 addresses. But the solution to this problem isn't to start looking down the back of the sofa for hidden bonuses. Whether the DWP needs its allocation or not, a sell off would do little to slow the depletion of IPv4 address space.
Instead, the government should be busting a gut to get the IPv6 bandwagon rolling.
Most people agree that migrating network infrastructure to IPv6 would be a sensible move. There's just little enthusiasm for actually doing so.
For many IT chiefs, the business case for embarking on an IPv6 migration is too thin: there are simply more pressing concerns. In such cases, the state can play a pivotal role, demonstrating best practice and introducing incentives for organisations that follow suit.
The government could have a profound impact on the take up of IPv6 in the UK, if it were so minded. One only has to look at the rollout of superfast broadband infrastructure to see an example of positive government intervention.
In the case of superfast broadband the government has correctly identified the importance of network infrastructure to the future of the British economy, and has even found money in these hard-pressed times, to help pay for the deployment.
Sadly, I don't hold out much hope that the government will become a leading light for IPv6. It's not exactly a vote winner. People can and do appreciate the difference that having a superfast internet connection makes to their lives; few would have any idea what difference an upgrade to IPv6 will make to them. In that sense, it's easy to see why the government hasn't looked at tax breaks for IPv6.
Inside government, plans to migrate to IPv6 are well underway. Internet minister Ed Vaizey has also occasionally been roused sufficiently to cajole UK firms to make the move. But neither of the efforts had carried enough vim to leave much of an impression.
The UK continues to lag behind its competitors in IPv6 adoption. If the government is seriously committed to making the UK the best place to do business, it needs to up its game now.