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Answers to Technical Questions About IPv6

For businesses and organizations. (July 2015)

Is IPv6 ready for deployment now?

Yes it is. The Three Ps of deployment are in place.

  1. The Protocol. The IPv6 Protocol benefited from 10 years of development within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and it’s been tested in both research and operational environments. IPv6 offers a large number of specific standards that have defined applicability and are only needed in specialized networking environments. But there’s room for further refinements as well, and those will happen as any large-scale issues that need attention come up. That won’t mean there’s something wrong with IPv6: IPv4 evolved and was modified over the years and there will likely be updates and modifications to IPv6 as it’s deployed worldwide—it’s safe to say there will be ongoing refinements to IPv6-related specifications.
  2. The Products. The core IPv6 specifications are becoming increasingly available as a standard part of products and service offerings. A good number of software applications and operating systems (especially in open source code) have already been updated for IPv6. Not all networking products may be fully-IPv6 capable and there might be significant upgrade gaps, especially in lower-end consumer equipment. If you’re responsible for networking, be sure to check with potential vendors and suppliers on the IPv6-adaptibility of their products and services. Also, any in-house applications or custom code that interface with Internet will need to be made IPv6 compatible.
  3. Practices. Operational practices established over several decades for IPv4 networks, and the same will happen over time for IPv6. And IPv6 will certainly gather momentum as IPv4 fades away. Some major networks overseas, primarily in Japan and Korea, have been already been operating with IPv6 for several years. Deployment of IPv6 has been gradually increasing, especially in research networks and R&D projects. Although IPv6 traffic is light in comparison to IPv4, that will change fast as the number of networks deploying IPv6 increases. The knowledge level across the IT community will grow as network leaders exchange information on best practices with their transitional experiences through operators groups, the IETF, and technical forums.

Why weren’t organizations ready to transition to IPv6?

There are several reasons, the primary one being that many people, even IT executives for leading technology firms, did not expect IPv4 addresses to run out when they did (summer 2015 in North America). As a result, companies postponed their investments and projects (and the costs) to be IPv6 ready. On top of that, many companies didn’t anticipate needing a large number of IP addresses—those blocks could be in the thousands and hundreds of thousands—so they postponed transition plans. Indeed, the transition to IPv6 is a major investment in terms of products and services, manpower and time. Finally, some companies could conclude there was not a real advantage (or disadvantage) to being IPv6 ready; nor were there any tangible repercussions or penalties for not being ready. There were some ways for companies to connect more devices to the Internet with IPv4 by getting creative with something called Network Address Translation—even though these “workarounds” were costly and didn’t make sense for the long term.

Was there a specific date when companies had to upgrade to IPv6?

No, and that was both good and bad. Companies avoided substantial IT costs by delaying their decision to update their networks; however, they put themselves in the position to be left in the cold if they did indeed need more IPv4 address blocks…only find that no more were available. As of July 2015 there was still no specified date for companies to be IPv6 ready. Some companies had implementation dates on their calendar, but many did not. But that’s not likely going to be disastrous. IPv4 isn’t going away anytime soon. IPv6 and IPv4 can co-exist, and it is expected that IPv4-only systems and applications will survive for many years. On the other hand, forward-looking companies will soon be IPv6-only systems. No matter where a company is today as far as being IPv6 compatible, there’s no longer any doubt that network operators and administrators should already be incorporating IPv6 into their network upgrade and procurement plans.

I’m responsible for networking, so what should I be doing now?

  • Look at IPv6 as you would any other major service upgrade…and plan accordingly.
  • Perform an audit of your network’s connectivity, and assess your IPv6 readiness and capabilities.
  • Review and assess the knowledge of your IT staff and determine if training is needed. Develop and education and development plan, and assign IPv6 team leaders.
  • Consider what products or services might decline if your IPv4 servers can’t accommodate customers using an IPv6-only platform. Make those areas a priority for IPv6 readiness.
  • Before converting your internal network, consider implementing an IPv6-enabled front-end Web server.
  • Identify and remove obstacles to implementing IPv6, such legacy systems that can’t be upgraded. Address each obstacle directly with an eye on the big picture.
  • Identify the hierarchy of steps needed to take for a smooth transition. Avoid investing in quick costly upgrades only to find another part of the network needs attention and will delay the project.
  • Contact vendors and assess the IPv6 readiness of their current products and coming upgrades.

What should my frame of mind be?

Accept the reality: IPv6 is the future…and the present. IPv6 is ready for deployment, and your employees, customers and company will benefit if you’re operating with the IPv6 protocol.

The IETF, equipment vendors, application developers, network operators and end users all have roles to play in ensuring the successful widespread deployment of IPv6.

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