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October 30, 2014

IPv6

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Way back in the early 1980’s the IPv4 protocol was defined and routes most traffic on the Internet today. If your computer is connected to the Internet, you are most likely using IPv4 along with 4.3 billion other people/devices. None the less, as years passed and the growth of the Internet exploded address exhaustion of IPv4 occurred only 30 years later. This stimulated the development of IPv6 which has been in commercial deployment since 2006. The question is why is IPv6 so important? Does this have an impact on your business? The answer is absolutely.

The following table shows how quickly the address space was consumed:
IPv4Table

Consider this: An IPv4 to IPv6 migration requires upgrading, reconfiguring, and testing all hardware and software. This includes the I.T. infrastructure such as firewalls, routers, switches, servers and storage arrays; end user devices as well like laptops, tablets, desktops and smartphones. Network operations as well as architecture, engineering policies, processes & best practices will need to be updated.

IPv6 is necessary for business growth as technological innovation has become the driving factor to business success in the 21st century. Businesses rely on IT’s ability to deliver new services to end users and customers as our competition increases. With that being said, the infrastructure and services used to support all of this require IP addresses. The businesses who choose not to perform an IPv4 to IPv6 migration risk limiting their ability to innovate and drive business growth. Why may this be the case? This is due to all major hardware, software, Internet, and cloud providers switching to IPv6 which will require everyone to adopt this technology.

As scary as an IPv6 migration sounds, IPv6 does offers more efficient routing. The design of IPv6 reduces the size of the routing tables. In IPv4 the fragmentation is handled by the router whereas the device handles the fragmentation in an IPV6 network. IP-level checksum or the need of the error-control feature is not included in the IPv6 protocol whereas this bogged down IPv4. None the less, the “new” Internet protocol can handle packets more efficiently and deliver better performance. Routers previously spent time checking packet integrity but now can be used to process data packets.

As we dive deeper into the technology the main advantage is that IPv6 provides directed data flows. Multicast which was an add-on to IPv4 as it was needed later on was used to deliver multimedia and make things a little more efficient. In IPv6, multicast replaces broadcast. The benefit is that multicast saves network bandwidth by allowing packet flows to be sent to multiple destinations at the same time. Also, a new field has been added to the IPv6 header. Flow label identifies packets belonging to the same flow. This allows routers to cache these packets in memory and route data more efficiently.
ipv4-ipv6-header

Another value added feature to IPv6 is that it has client side IP address assignment built-in eliminating the need of a DHCP server as you would use in IPv4 to dynamically assign IP’s to client devices. Now what happens is the client device generates its own IP address by appending its MAC address converted into a Extended Universal Identifier (EUI) format to the local link prefix. Not to fear, IT admins can still statically configure an IP with IPv6 or assign addressing via DHCPv6 if needed.

Additionally, Network address translation (NAT) is no longer supported at all. NAT is used on IPv4 networks to allow multiple devices to share the same global IP address. IPv6 has so many IP addresses it doesn’t need to NAT anymore.   This is ok because IPv6 provides built-in security and end-to-end connectivity at the IP layer.  IPv6 has IPsec security built into the protocol for standard Internet traffic by encrypting traffic and checking packet integrity therefore making it more secure than IPv4.

Now that we have discussed the history, business purpose, and technology of IPv6 our recommendation is that you start planning your IPv6 migration within the next 18-24 months. Most new devices come with the IPv6 implementation but it will be worthwhile to check and make sure the new protocol is supported. In terms of the discovery, planning, and implementation process, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to discuss this topic further.


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