...an environment in which both versions are active, and the infrastructure services responsible for making the internet go round must be able to support both, a more complicated task than it at first perhaps appears.
Few organisations will find the process of migrating from IPv4 to IPv6 as complicated as cloud-computing providers.
The impact on cloud computing
Cloud-computing providers, like everyone else, rely heavily on IP addresses to integrate and interconnect their vast array of compute, storage and network resources. But they are also responsible for providing public-facing services for their customers, such as DNS. Internally, they employ a complex ecosystem of scripts and management frameworks that enable the automation and remote control necessary for self-service.
So not only does a cloud provider need to ensure its external services are capable of supporting both versions, but they must migrate their internal systems, frameworks and controls.
For some cloud-computing providers, those supplying software-as-a-service (SaaS) in particular, this requirement is probably not as difficult as it will be for an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider. That's because an IaaS provider must also deal with customers who configure and control their own virtual images, many of which may be reliant on IPv4 instead of IPv6, or vice versa.
Applications and other services are often developed using IP addresses as identification of any external or third-party integrated services, and those applications are generally controlled by the customer, not the provider.
But that does not mean SaaS is off the hook. Applications deployed in any cloud-computing environment that integrate back into enterprise datacentres or vice versa, which may be using different IP versions but rely on IP addresses for security or integration, could be stymied by incompatibilities or incomplete migrations.
Collaboration to avoid wide-scale outages
There are myriad challenges to such a mass migration when so many different variables are involved, so it's not going to be a simple case of throwing a switch. The collaboration and careful planning that will be required to meet the challenges without causing wide-scale outages have just begun.
As we've never attempted such a large transition before with the internet on its present scale, we must be prepared to cut everyone a bit of slack.
As we've never attempted such a large transition before with the internet on its present scale, we must be prepared to cut everyone a bit of slack. It is no trivial task that the internet as a whole is undertaking. If we understand the complexity of the task before us, we should be able to cope with the inevitable bumps in the road.
Perhaps considering how difficult a task cloud-computing providers — indeed all of us — have ahead, we'll be a little less condemning of outages and the like that occur from the collision of IPv4 with IPv6 during the months and years ahead.
Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.
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