Transition to IPv6: The Elephant in the Room? (Or is it…)

April 25, 2011   //   Cloud, , , ,

Many of us in the Chicago IT networking world have been hearing Y2K-esque doom and gloom prophecies that the current Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) will face. In fact, Network World recently hosted an online debate about this issue. Most of this is based on the fact that the availability of address space derived from its 32-bit range is dwarfed by the global demand.

What I have rarely heard is a non-technical discussion on the issue that is relevant to the technology decision makers. I would like to offer a balanced look at the issue and what it means for the SMB and your technology needs.

  1. The biggest problem with IPv4 is that it does not have enough IP addresses to meet the global need. This issue is mostly for non-U.S. based Internet Service Providers and larger organizations that will be required to migrate new BGP Autonomous Systems to support IPv6 operation. The private IPv4 address range used for your internal network is not likely to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
  2. IPv6 support is robust and there are several migration/co-existence strategies. In fact, most modern network hardware and operating systems support IPv6. This means that a monumental and expensive transition may not be necessary.
  3. IPv6 is really cool but, in my opinion, there is no “killer feature” that provides a business justification for most organizations to migrate their entire internal network to IPv6. In fact, some applications may not yet fully support IPv6, so this may not be an option.

You may be curious as to what IPv6 actually provides over IPv4. Here is a spec sheet of what I believe are the key IPv6 features.

  • Larger Address Space: IPv6 has 128 bit format (versus the 32 bit format of IPv4). I can confidently say that this means we will never run out of addresses again. The address space provided by IPv6 is enough for every person to receive millions of addresses and have room left over.
  • Native IPsec Support: While not perfect, IPv6 supports built in data authentication (verify the sender), encryption (prevent prying eyes) and integrity (prevent tampering). This means that security in IPv6 is “native” to the stack allowing for end-to-end security.
  • Advanced Packet Handling: IPv6 supports a multitude of packet traffic options and technologies that make IPv6 very versatile and more efficient than its predecessor. This paves the way for more dynamic and resilient network infrastructures.