IPv6 – To Deploy or not to Deploy
IPv6 is again in the news with 8th June 2011 designated as “World IPv6 Day” as Facebook, Google and Yahoo, are joining major content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight Networks (NASDAQ: LLNW), and the Internet Society, for the first global-scale trial of the new Internet Protocol, IPv6. On June 8, 2011, these participants will enable IPv6 on their main services for 24 hours.
Internet protocol (IP) addresses, are critical for the operation of the Internet, as every device linked to the Internet needs a unique number to enable it to connect with the rest of the devices on the network.
IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is an Internet layer protocol developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force as an alternative to IPv4 and published as early as December 1998. While IPv4 is a 32-bit system and can therefore support 232 (4,294,967,296) addresses, IPv6 is based on 128-bit addresses that can support 2128 addresses (approximately 340 undecillion or 3.4×1038).
The exact number is 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. Obviously, IPv6 provides enough addresses to allow the Internet to continue to expand and the industry to innovate. This expansion allows for many more devices and users on the internet as well as extra flexibility in allocating addresses and efficiency for routing traffic.
IPv4 address exhaustion has been long anticipated but IPv6 didn’t really happen in a hurry. As a means of alleviating the pressure to move away from IPv4, Enterprises use private IP addresses, NAT (network address translation) and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). Gartner’s April 2006 suggestion that “most should delay any move to IPv6 as there is no real pressure” reflects the mindset at that point in time.
IPv6 has been slowly – but steadily picking up since 2005 as shown in http://www.ipv6actnow.org/info/statistics/. But this is changing quickly as the IPv4 address pool is declining quickly as shown in http://webscannotes.com/?p=917. In any case, the best estimate is that IPv4 addresses available from Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) will be exhausted in mid-2012.
The reasons for the delay in IPv6 adoption are:
- IPv6 is not directly compatible with IPv4, meaning that a device connected via IPv4 cannot communicate directly with a device connected using IPv6.
- IPv6 implementation requires pro-active steps: technology must be upgraded, staff trained, business plans developed.
To ignore IPv6 any more means taking risk. The results predicted are loss of universal Internet interconnectivity, scattered performance issues, configuration and security problems and legal and financial issues (Gartner – May 2010).
Does that mean that every Enterprise should move to IPv6 right away? Thankfully, the answer seems to be “Not necessary”.
A Gartner Report (Sep 2010) points out that “Communications service providers (CSPs) in Japan received a report on IPv4address saturation likely to happen in 2012 from APNIC, an authority on Asian IP networks and CSPs should therefore move to use IPv6 immediately”. When IPv4 addresses run out, only IPv6 addresses will be available to new Internet users and websites have to be ready to offer their services over IPv6 by then. So service provider networks – especially the ones that support IPv6 enabled mobile devices – are expected to the first to adopt IPv6 (and the June 2010 tested also point to the same trend).
According to http://blogs.gartner.com/john_pescatore/2010/06/11/guest-blogger-lawrence-orans-on-ipv6-and-security/, Enterprises need to be pay attention to IPV6, but there is still no need to panic – IPv4 will be around for a very long time. The Enterprises may not be able to adopt IPv6 (or actually do away with IPv4) right away as:
- Enterprise Packages like Oracle, SAP and others are not IPv6 Compatible.
- Network management solutions are not yet ready for IPv6.
- Security solutions don’t support IPv6 well and IPv6-based anomaly detection is also light.
- Support for IPv6 amongst SIEM vendors varies widely.
While taking minimum action to ensure that the external networks connectivity is not affected, implementing IPv6 in internal enterprise networks is not required to be done in a hurry. Most Enterprises are expected to have IPv6 internet presence by 2014 and till then the IPv4 addresses they already have should be sufficient.
IPv6 Deployment is quite challenging and though 2014 seems to be a long away deadline, for smooth implementation, IPv6 planning (refer http://www.ipv6actnow.org/info/how-to/enterprise/) should start right away. Gartner’s comment (on its Dec 2010 report), “IPv6: Its Time for (Limited) Action” nicely sums up the current situation.