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Selling enterprises on IPv6 migration: Like getting kids to eat veggies

Carriers must pitch the IPv6 migration to enterprise customers as a gradual process and focus the conversation on enabling business continuity rather than simple scare tactics.

Selling enterprise customers on an IPv6 migration plan with no obvious return on investment (ROI) is not easy. Whether your sales reps are coaxing expense-phobic CFOs or skeptical IT professionals, service providers will face resistance. As such, carriers must pitch the IPv6 transition as a gradual process that enables business continuity, rather than relying on Y2K-style scare tactics.

You need to convince your customers that this is really something they want to pay attention to; but on the flip side, this is not do-or-die on a certain date, as Y2K was portrayed.


Pieter Poll
CTOQwest Communications

 "It's almost like convincing your kids that they want to eat their spinach," said Pieter Poll, CTO of Qwest Communications. "You need to convince your customers that this is really something they want to pay attention to; but on the flip side, this is not do-or-die on a certain date, as Y2K was portrayed…. Just like with your kids, you try a few vegetables, maybe find one or two they like, see if they enjoy the benefits and work your way from there."

Although the Internet won't go dark the day IPv4 addresses are depleted, service providers must push enterprises to ramp up their IPv6 migration plans. Network operators must ensure that their support engineers aren't overwhelmed by IPv6 issues experienced by unprepared enterprise customers. They also need to generate some ROI for the millions they have spent on readying telecom infrastructure and systems for IPv6 by turning that readiness into a competitive edge with enterprises.

Enterprises will need to support IPv6 on network gear, servers and clients, in addition to ensuring that their management and security systems are IPv6-compatible. Customers will look to carriers for guidance not just to evaluate which pieces of their infrastructure need to be upgraded or replaced but also to decide the best IPv6 transition path -- dual-stack architecture, tunneling or network address translation (NAT).

"A lot of enterprises are asking, 'Why?' and 'What do we need to do about this?' and they're turning to their service providers … for answers," said John Mazur, principal analyst at Ovum. "[Operators] are trying to establish leadership and get this under control."

Selling IPv6 migration in baby steps

Qwest, which in July announced its plans to offer IPv6 addressing to enterprise and government customers, has focused its strategy on helping enterprises understand the business value of an early and careful IPv6 migration, Poll said.

Whether sales representatives are talking to CFOs or network administrators, "the focus of the conversation is around business continuity," he said. Qwest is also trying to emphasize some of the security gains inherent to the IPv6 protocol, such as IPsec, as an incentive.

"The key message we give our customers is contrary to some of the hype that is out there. There is no one-size-fits-all [approach], and everyone needs to think very carefully about what the v6 world means to them," Poll said. "I stress this to my own sales force [who are] asking the same questions: How do you talk to customers and convince them to do something different when this is going to cost them some dollars?"

Carriers should be pitching IPv6 migrations as a way for enterprises to get familiar with the technology via incremental upgrades, according to Mike Jude, program manager at Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan.

"You don't want to go in and be the Chicken Little [and say], 'Oh my God, the sky is falling because we just ran out of Block 8 addresses!'" Jude said. "If what you want to do is be alarmist, that's definitely not going to sell this. What I think is more effective is the polar opposite, which is facilitative, and say … 'Now is the perfect time to start getting your feet wet. We'll make the pipes available and we have the experts here to help.'"

Service providers may also find success by painting an IPv6 migration as part of an overall infrastructure upgrade, Mazur said.

"Because there's no strong business case, which is the first thing that both the IT and the business people in the enterprise are going to want to hear about, I would pitch it as a general network upgrade story," he said. "You could say, 'You might as well look at moving to IPv6 as part of a network modernization program, and while you're at it, is there any old equipment in your network? That old stuff is probably ready to go anyway and probably very energy inefficient.'"

How to handle enterprises skeptical of an IPv6 migration

Although more enterprises are asking service providers about how and why they should make the IPv6 migration, not all are eager participants because they fear it requires a large capital investment, according to William Schmidlapp, senior consultant for product marketing at Verizon Business.

Verizon sales representatives are scheduling site visits and conference calls to educate customers on IPv4 versus IPv6, to evaluate their infrastructure and explain how they can take a conservative approach to IPv6 enablement, he said.

"Nobody's happy that they have to upgrade their infrastructure and that they have to do that based on a technology change," Schmidlapp said. "Initially, there's resistance to [an IPv6 migration] because of the expenditure that's associated with it, but after we have communicated with them … they realize, 'I don't have to forklift my entire infrastructure, but I have to support the protocol.'"

Meanwhile, service providers have to confront IT professionals who remain skittish about IPv6 security concerns and some of the next-generation protocol's inherent vulnerabilities. At a recent hacker conference, one speaker called IPv6 a "security nightmare", according to The Register.

Qwest has tried to instill confidence in enterprise customers by acknowledging their security concerns and identifying a safer IPv6 migration path, Poll said.

"Clearly, Qwest and the carrier industry at large have to show our customers that we have done our homework," he said. "When [vendors] say their code is v6-ready, we go very carefully into the network in a quarantined space [to test the equipment] ... and by and large, every time we do that, we find an issue and go back. I would encourage the enterprises to test very carefully."

Service providers should be prepared to face tough questions from both the business and IT organizations and should probably bring backup when talking to wary networking pros, Jude said.

"It's not going to be a simple sale because there is a lot of skepticism out there," he said. "Is it something an unarmed sales rep can do? I don't think so, but I think a good sales rep with a good sales engineer could probably make a fairly compelling case."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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