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IPv6 Is Inevitable. What's Your Plan

What's the big deal?

When IP addresses were first conceived in 1981 as a system to allow computers to connect to each other, running short never seemed possible. Today, Internet enabled devices include not just servers, desktops and laptops, but also cell phones, sensors, cars, home appliances and countless other devices. Everything is becoming network enabled, and unfortunately we are running out of room under IPv4, the old system.

The new IP address assignment protocol is named IPv6 and it is already here. Compatibility with IPv6 will not simply happen on its own. Are you ready for it?

As a network administrator, you need to ask :

  • How do I get my network to operate with IPv6?

  • Can I continue to use my old equipment? If so, how?

  • How quickly do I need to make the transition?

  • What are the worst-case scenarios? Are we ready?

Although a wealth of information is available regarding these issues, many are hesitating with the transition because of increased infrastructure costs, incompatibility concerns and technical challenges.

We’ve created this guide as an introduction to these issues and as a starting point for further research. In short, don’t procrastinate!

The heart of it all

When the holidays roll around, it’s time to send your aunt a card. You fill out her address on the envelope, stick on a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox. The card gets picked up by the mail truck, makes its way through many mail processing centers, more trucks or planes, and eventually into her hands.

Aside from the infrastructure in place to make this happen, the core component in this process remains the unique mailing address. Each part of it - the name, street address, city, state, zip and country all help route the letter properly.

Similarly, information or data is transmitted from one computer or device to another by using a common language or protocol. When two devices communicate, data is grouped in packets (like an envelope) and transmitted over the network (the mail system) from one device to the next (like you and your aunt’s home). Data traverses many points along the way called routers (mail processing centers) and one of the most important links in the chain is the unique IP address of the end-user (your Aunt’s address).

As in mailing addresses, IP addresses must be unique, or data would never know where to go.

Not just more room

The IPv6 protocol was designed to use 128 bits. This will allow a tremendous number of unique IP addresses - roughly 340 trillion, trillion, trillion, and it is doubtful we will run out any time soon. (Well, since network architects said the same thing in the 80’s when IPv4 was established, if you think this can run out, please let us know how). The IP addresses of IPv6 look like the following: 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:1:1.

IPv6 follows several key design principles of IPv4 to help ensure a smooth transition. In addition, the opportunity to make changes was not ignored, and IPv6 was designed with several advantages over IPv4, including:

  • Auto-configuration

  • Simplified header structures to ensure fast routing

  • Enhanced security

  • Built-in Quality of Service (QoS)

  • Mobility and multicast enhancements

  • Ease of administration

  • Do I really need IPv6?

    Yes! The experts have given migration a lot of thought and they are both excited and worried. The excitement is because the accessibility of so many diverse devices will lead to innovation and interoperability never yet seen before. The hard part is the transition itself- it will be a long time before we can really say goodbye to IPv4. Yet, at the same time implementation of IPv6 has already begun and manufacturers are urging customers to begin as soon as possible to minimize risk.

    IT managers for all businesses must plan how they will transition IPv6 equipment into their operations. Some existing equipment may be upgraded, and some may need to be replaced. The first step is to list all the hardware in use, and run a compatibility check for each piece of hardware. (You do keep a list of your hardware, right ?)

    Larger businesses or organizations have less to worry about IP address exhaustion, as they most likely already have blocks assigned. However, equipment should be put in place that can process both IPv6 and IPv4 traffic. Service providers will suffer the most from the IPv4 address exhaustion because their customers are using up the majority of the address space of IPv4. Thus, they will most likely transition first.

    There are some areas where IPv6 can be beneficial or required right away. Some examples include:

    • Telematics IPv6 can also be useful in vehicles that use IP-enabled sensors to monitor and manage operations. In addition, they can provide critical data to the owner of the car regarding maintenance and troubleshooting. There are currently some programs which integrate these control systems through integrated IP-based networks. Telematics is also being used by various rail systems to manage the spacing between trains, helping to maximize passenger loads and improve safety.

    • Industrial Sensors and Control Systems An important area where IPv6 will proliferate is in industrial networks like plant, process or building automation networks. Sensors in the manufacturing process can track products throughout the entire flow, from production all the way to distribution. This will lead to a wealth of data available for analysis and optimization. Further, companies can benefit from economies of scale, simpler operations, and common cross-network security enforcement.

    How can I transition smoothly ?

    Everyone agrees on the need to transition. However, there is no need to convert to IPv6 cold, as you can adapt your networks to accommodate both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic. During this transitional period, equipment manufacturers and infrastructure vendors will provide transitional solutions, most likely via software.

    Businesses can adopt one of the following three transition strategies:

    • 1. Dual-stack In this strategy, both IPv4 and IPv6 exist separately allowing parallel usage. These nodes, called IPv6/IPv4 nodes, can send and receive IPv4 and IPv6 packets simultaneously, giving full interoperability with both protocols.

    • 2. Tunneling IPv6 traffic can be routed via IPv4 nodes that have not been upgraded. In this mechanism, IPv6 packets are encapsulated via a tunnel. Many tunneling mechanisms already exist to deploy this method. However, dual-stack is still needed at the end points for each of these tunneling mechanisms.

    • 3. Translation This strategy is needed because of IPv6 nodes must still communicate with IPv4 nodes. Translation mechanisms, like SIIT (Stateless IP-ICMP translation) and NAT-PT (Network Address translation –protocol translation) can enable communication between equipment that supports one version or the other.

    Will I be able to use my older equipment with IPv6?

    Probably, but you need to audit every component of your network - user equipment, equipment on customer premises, and ISP-provided WAN equipment including routers, switches, and firewalls. In addition, if the infrastructure includes wireless equipment such as GPRS, that must be migrated as well.

    Network Type Components
    MPLS Transport (core and aggregation) Routers, NMS
    ISP network Gateway routers, web server
    Messaging, Security, Firewalls
    Broadband access Tier 1 and Tier 2 switches, DSLAM, and DSLAM CPEs
    Policy control
    Wireless broadband Soft switch (3G)

    Manufacturers have been producing network hardware with IPv6 capability for several years now, and most routers manufactured after 2001 are IPv6 ready, and simply require a software upgrade. Older hardware, such as Cisco legacy-routers for example, may require a hardware upgrade to get IPv6 support.

    IPv6 compatibility is available for these Cisco routers as well as Universal Access Servers. This is only a partial list:


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