Why and when should one consider IPv6?

1 Author : November 28, 2012 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: The Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) is the first standardized version of the internet protocol. Introduced almost three decades ago though, it is still relevant and is the dominant network protocol in use today. The re-combination of digits in its 32-bit addressing system provides for 4.3 billion addresses which were assumed to be sufficient for the growth of Internet. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was given the responsibility of allocating these addresses and it did so by distributing a subset of these to the regional Internet Registries in blocks of approximately 16.8 million addresses each.

Also, in April 2011, the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Registry (APNIC RIR) entered the last stages of IPv4 allocation, making it much difficult for organizations in that region of the world to obtain the IPv4 address space that they would justify for under previous policies. The remaining regions will follow in the near future. Although IPv4 has served its purpose well so far, it did not anticipate and provide for the exponential growth of the Internet, the network security threats and the encryption needs.

Limitations of IPv4
The ubiquity of Internet and the increasing number of servers, workstations and devices are rapidly leading to a scarcity of available public IPv4 addresses. The value of IPv4 addresses is well illustrated by the fact that Microsoft bought 666,624 IP addresses from Nortel for USD 7.5 million in 2011. With several other constraints such as lack of in-built network security and limited Quality of Service (QoS), the stage is set.

Why an enterprise should consider IPv6
By 2015, there will be more than 7.1 billion mobile connected devices globally. Smartphones, home and industrial appliances, Internet connected transportation, integrated telephony, sensor networks, distributed computing, gaming, online business and all other spheres are being driven by the Internet increasingly. The phenomenal growth in the number of objects connecting to the network and the interactions between them brings an increased focus on the rate of depletion of IPv4 addresses, network security and QoS making the transition to IPv6 inevitable. Not adopting IPv6 will not only limit the growth of Internet but also the business potential of enterprises. As more and more users start adopting IPv6-only devices, enterprises with IPv4 websites will lose out on business opportunities if they do not provide for this shift.

Realizing the urgency, governments across the world are mandating a transition to IPv6. The US government has mandated its federal agencies to ensure that all 10000 of its websites support IPv6 by September 2012 and internal applications that communicate with public Internet servers migrate to IPv6 by 2014. In India, the Telecommunication Engineering Center under the Department of Telecommunications has been given the mandate to facilitate a smooth transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

Benefits galore
IPv6 offers various advantages over its predecessor. The expanded addressing capacity of IPv6 will provide about 340 trillion unique addresses in contrast to the addressing capability of IPv4 which is limited to 4 billion. The inexhaustibility of the number of IPv6 addresses can be inferred from the quote by Steven Leibson – ‘we could assign an IPv6 address to EVERY ATOM ON THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.”(http://blog.asmallorange.com/ipv6/)

IPv6 will eliminate the need for Network Address Translation (NAT) devices and thereby the capital and operating costs associated with its deployment and maintenance. The IP Security protocol suite has been built into the IPv6 architecture thereby making way for an intrinsic security mechanism with IPv6 implementation. Identical security mechanisms in all applications within an enterprise simplify security management. A more secure network protocol additionally paves the way for deployment of applications that require secure transactions.

The extensible structure of the IPv6 header allows provisioning for new features. IPv6 gives better QoS than IPv4 as the IPv6 header contains a field which allows packets that start from a particular host and head to a particular destination, to be identified and handled quickly and efficiently by the routers. IPv6 adoption will benefit various sectors, namely, government, defense, telecommunications, power, transportation and logistics, gaming, real estate, health care and education.

Planning your IPv6 migration
While it is evident that IPv6 and IPv4 will continue to coexist for many years now, the true potential of the digital economy and next generation services can only be realized once operators plan their IPv6 migrations. In addition, IPv6 transition is a tedious task given the complexities related with the migration and as IPv6 is not backward compatible companies need to be cautious while planning their migrations to ensure business. It is extremely important that all software and hardware aspects are clearly evaluated before launching a migration, as any gaps can have direct impact on the availability of many critical services.

- Preparation should be such that design and build doesn’t become prohibitively expensive
- Design, Build and Migration should be achieved with minimal impact

For this, a company should have vast experience in building and managing complex IP networks on a global scale. It is therefore that it will be well positioned to provide IPv6 transition services to enterprises, service providers, and manufacturers of all sizes and in any part of the world. Pointers below highlight required competencies that address the key complications of any IPv6 migration.

Phase 1:
- Assessment Network Devices
- Lab Setup
- DNS & DHCP Migration
- Application and OS Testing for IPv6
- Enabling IPv6 Device & Network Security
- 6PE: IXP Connectivity and Peering
- Enabling IPv6 Enterprise requirement
- Enterprise VPN Services Plan
- Enterprise VPN Services Implementation

Phase 2:
- Network Topology Assessment
- IPv6 Addressing Plan
- Smart Phone & Mobile Device testing
- NAT 44 Migration for 3G
- DSL Broadband Migration Network Security Plan using LSN 444, 6RD, DSLITE & Dual Stack
- DSL Broadband Migration

Phase 3:
- Identify areas that IPv6 has not been covered from access networks point of view
- Example: Migrating pseudo wires using IPv4 based targeted LDP sessions
- Implement solutions to address areas not covered in Phase I, II and III

Phase 4:
- Turn off IPv4

The pace of growth of connected devices and Internet makes the transition to IPv6 for communication service providers and enterprises inevitable. It is also clear that IPv4 and IPv6 will coexist in the immediate future making things be more difficult to manage and further delaying IPv6 migration. However, the bigger challenge for service providers and large enterprises will be to draw an appropriate roadmap for IPv6 migration, keeping in mind their business continuity needs and strategic goals.

The large scale adoption of IPv6 will not only make the Internet more efficient and secure, it will also act as an enabler for a truly digital world, opening new revenue sources and facilitating new revenue models.

This article first appeared on PC Quest.

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