Internet Protocol (IP), or, more accurately, IPv4, has been keeping the Internet humming for more than 30 years. However, over that time, it has been modified, patched and kludged repeatedly to keep up with the evolving needs of the Internet-using community.
When IPv4 was originally developed, no-one could have foreseen how pervasive the Internet would become.
— Jim Bound, chairman of the North American IPv6 Task Force
Not surprisingly, IPv4 has suffered growing pains: Its address space is too small to accommodate widespread adoption of all the Internet-connected appliances that are beginning to crop up, let alone the potential billions of new Internet users in countries like India and China. Adaptations like NAT (network address translation) and IPSec security protocols have kept the Internet going, but they are only interim measures.
Are You Ready for IPv6?
Soon or later the world is going to move to IPv6, the next generation IP, which includes a vastly expanded address space (128 bit instead of 32), far higher security, and auto-configuration that does away with the need for local Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol DHCP servers and allows global addressing.
All this, of course, is well-documented, but it leaves you and other network administrators with many questions:
- What does this all mean for you?
- When should you start preparing to move to IPv6?
- What preparations should you make? How much will it cost?
- What if you do nothing?
- How do you know that IPv6 will be relevant any time soon?
To answer the last question first, the U.S. Government is putting its considerable weight behind a push towards IPv6. For example, the Defense Department — with its $30 billion budget — has been buying only IPv6-compliant networking gear since October 2003, and aims to have full IPv6 compliance by 2008.
Clearly IPv6 is on the rise, and its adoption is likely to snowball as more IPv6 networks encourage the use of IPv6 devices, making IPv6 networks more desirable.
Time Shouldn’t Matter
So when should you start preparing? In a way, timing is not critical — IPv6 was designed from the very beginning to co-exist with IPv4, so, in theory, you could keep your head down and ignore IPv6, while continue to operate as you do now.
But, in practice, the sooner you start the better. “If you are not thinking about planning a move to IPv6 today, it’s costing you money,” said Jim Bound, chairman of the North American IPv6 Task Force. “The longer you wait and live with IPv4 bandaids, plugs and fixes to make it all work, the more you’ll be buying that doesn’t support IPv6 and the more it will cost you to move in the end.”
Strategize, Plan and Test
Planning and testing are obviously important steps in making a network IPv6 compliant, but the very first thing you should be doing is sorting out your procurement strategy and, specifically, ensuring that everything you buy from now on is IPv6 capable. That way when you do start to test and pilot IPv6 networking you won’t have to go out and replace existing equipment.
— Cody Christman, Verio’s director, product engineering, network services
Remember that IPv4 and IPv6 can co-exist, so there’s no reason why you’ll have to replace everything in one go: By replacing old devices with IPv6 equipment as it reaches the end of its lifecycle, you can keep the cost of moving to IPv6 to a minimum. “Moving to IPv6 is a transition, not a migration, and we guess that the two protocols will co-exist for at least 20 years,” said Bound.
The only way that IPv6 is likely to become a real cost burden is if you ignore it and then discover you need to comply with it in a hurry. This could be because customers won’t deal with you — perhaps for security reasons — or because you need its functionality to stay competitive. Whatever the cause, if in the future you need IPv6 fast then it could end costing you a great deal if you don’t start preparing now.
Equipment Can Wait, Training Starts Now
One area where you will need to spend some money on is training and education. You may be able to replace equipment gradually, but you and your staff need to be up to speed with IPv6 and its requirements. Again, if you start planning now you should be able to get most of your team up to speed by the time the skills are required in earnest.
What about bandwidth? Will you have to upgrade your network when you implement IPv6? Japan-based telecoms carrier NTT subsidiary Verio offers IPv6 connectivity via its NTT/Verio Global IP network, and Cody Christman, Verio’s director, product engineering, network services, says the overall effect on network speed of implementing IPv6 is negligible, so there will be no need for costly upgrades — or avoiding future ones either. “The address is longer, but the IP datagram is shorter. And routing tables are simpler, so they could need less processing. Overall, the effect is insignificant — it won’t make the network faster or slower,” he said.
Are there any other things that net admins should be thinking about? Cisco, Juniper and other hardware vendors, and specialist software vendors, will be ensuring — in no small part thanks to the U.S. Government — that their code is IPv6 compliant, but what about the software you’ve developed in house? “It’s important that you consider how any home-grown administration tools will work,” Christman said. Will they work at all? Will you need to rewrite them? How important are they, and how easy will it be to test any rewrites in your own pilot schemes? It would be prudent to check.
Don’t Be Caught Off-Guard
There’s no question that IPv6 is coming — in fact it’s already fairly commonplace in parts of Asia and Japan — and the only uncertainty is when it will be a commercial imperative for your organization to adopt it. It’s been a long time in development, but your best bet is to start preparing if you want it to be a benefit, not an obstacle, to your business. Jim Bound, of the IPv6 task force, offers this advice: “IPv6 is a disruptive technology, and I think all of a sudden everyone will be using it.”