IPv6: When do you really need to switch?

Summary:World IPv6 Day, 6 June, 2012, is here, but what does that really mean for your network?

...sites that IPv6-enabled users can reach. Of course, they'll still be able to reach them by IPv4 as well. As Sampa Choudhuri, a Cisco small business marketing manager, recently blogged, "Your current network running IPv4-based devices won't be obsolete for some time."

However, as John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), North America's RIR, explains: "World IPv6 Launch Day is a lot larger than people understand. IPv6 is the single largest upgrade in the history of the internet. It's not a small decision for the major content providers to turn on IPv6 and leave it on. Going forward, internet users will be forced to go through transition gateways to reach businesses that do not similarly upgrade by adding IPv6 connectivity, with the result being slower connections and services for their customers."

Those transaction gateways, which slow down traffic, already exist. Alain Fiocco, Cisco's Senior Pv6 Program Director, says, "For a real-world example of IPv6's impact on business-to-consumer services, look to online banking. While a common web service, online banking is actually a complex application that, delivered through IPv4, is bogged down jumping translation hurdles to reach an IPv6 household. Therefore, an IPv4 bank risks losing customers [that] consider a speedy, complex and rich online experience an integral part of the business relationship."

For businesses working with other businesses, Fiocco thinks the need is even greater. "Other industries — particularly in B2B — don't have a choice. Manufacturing companies with partners in IPv4-exhausted regions (eg, China, Vietnam) have already made the switch," he says.

Tom Coffeen, IPv6 evangelist for InfoBlox, a US network services company, agrees. "Given the exhaustion of IPv4 in Asia (with Europe to follow in a few weeks) many newly connected (and all future) internet users will be requesting content from IPv6-enabled devices," he says. "Companies are becoming more aware of the risk to competitive advantage brought on by failing to make their public-facing (ie, internet available) content over IPv6. As a result, the logical scope of IPv6 adoption for most companies will be to get their content online via IPv6.

Increased customer loyalty, higher network efficiency and reduced costs can all be powerful byproducts of the IPv6 transition.

– Craig Sprosts, Nominum

"Specifically, for many organisations this will mean configuring one or more web servers with IPv6," Coffeen continues. "In most cases this will be done on the same servers that currently support IPv4, leading to a 'dual-stack' configuration. Of course, the supporting network segment, router and/or firewall will need to support IPv6 as well. Companies that rely on web hosting or a CDN will need to make sure those service providers support IPv6."

Besides, as Nominum's Sprosts notes, since "the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is a necessity to keep the internet running and growing" you might as well make the best of it. "Operators, content providers and enterprises should not ignore the powerful business benefits associated with the 'new' internet. Things like increased customer loyalty, higher network efficiency and reduced costs can all be powerful byproducts of the IPv6 transition," Sprosts says.

In short, there are business reasons for starting your IPv6 move.

When should you upgrade?

"When? That's the 2^128-address question," says Cisco's Fiocco. "As more and more consumers switch to IPv6 — AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and other service providers now bring new households online via IPv6 as a matter of course — it would make sense for businesses to provide services and content via IPv6 sooner rather than later."

Owen DeLong, Hurricane Electric's IPv6 evangelist, agrees. "The sooner you start, the better you can plan/prepare. Plan on adding IPv6 to your existing capabilities and maintaining dual-stack for several years." He also warns, "Expect to have to touch everything in your network." That isn't easy.

Security in particular needs careful consideration, with IPv6 adding a whole new interface to the internet to manage and monitor.

As Chris Smithee, Strategic Solutions Architect with Lancope, a network performance and security company, explains: "For those looking to transition from IPv4 to IPv6, it is important to know that it does not happen with a flip of a switch. There are certain steps that need to be taken to guarantee success during the switch."

Smithee continues: "To start the transition, many may decide to run dual-stack networks, which allow for the operation of both IPv4 and IPv6 environments across the same hardware, ensuring no disruption to service delivery. During this process, it is paramount that organisations implement network monitoring technologies.

"Technologies like flow-based monitoring and other network monitoring tools allow IT professionals to gain visibility into upgrade points and observe application behaviour. Though many organisations may not see the IPv6 light, it has never been more important to make the switch, in tandem with using available technologies, to preserve the integrity and security of today's computing infrastructure."

That also means making sure your network equipment vendors can deliver the goods. Chris Crotteau, senior technical engineer at Network Hardware Resaler, US-based sellers of second-hand network gear, warns: "Describing a device as IPv6 capable does not necessarily imply that the unit has the needed IPv6 features called for by any particular deployment; that a device can process IPv6 traffic at the same rate as IPv4 traffic; or that the system has sufficient resources available to simultaneously process IPv4 and IPv6 traffic."

Though many organisations may not see the IPv6 light, it has never been more important to make the switch.

– Chris Smithee, Lancope

Fiocco, however, suggests that your equipment may be up to the job. "If you bought edge routers or security devices within the last three-four years, saddling up for IPv6 is probably as easy as a software update." Otherwise, you're looking at a refresh of your IT infrastructure.

So, according to Fiocco, "The bottom line: if your client is on IPv6, it's in your business's best interest to switch. And with AT&T alone projecting five million [US] households [on IPv6] by the end of 2012, alongside explosive 4G growth, chances are many clients and consumers are getting there, if they are not already."

While IPv6 may still be a trickle today, it's soon going to be a flood, and the sooner you start making the change the better.

Remember, we really are almost out of IPv4 addresses, and by 2013, most new internet services and websites in Asia, Europe and North America will be only reachable by IPv6.

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Topics: Networking

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