Migration to IPv6 is necessary and pressing

Just when you thought you have everything covered, here’s another spanner I’m going to toss in the works. IPv6. Google currently estimates that some 3 per cent of its users access its site over IPv6. While the low digit figure might seem small at first glance, it is a significant measure of the global IPv6 deployment.

Then there’s the burgeoning Internet of Things, with its world of connected physical objects from cars to water meters, all communicating via the Internet. This is a growing phenomenon to reckon with. Without IPv6, the Internet of Things would not be possible.  In the same way, many of the latest smartphones with a dazzling array of capabilities are IPv6 only devices.

Asia Pacific has already exhausted its IPv4 address allocations. In their research “Create the right roadmap for your organization”, Gartner analysts Neil Rickard and Andrew Lerner, warn that by 2015 enterprises that cannot communicate with the growing number of IPv6-connected devices risk financial and reputational damage.

The migration to IPv6 is both necessary and pressing. Yet adoption is slow. Governments need to take a more proactive stance both, as adopters of the protocol and as policy makers, to drive national adoption. Government concerns about costs and security are understandable. It is costly to replace the large installed base of IPv4 compatible equipment and applications. However, being able to participate in the global economy and provide the next generation services that global markets demand make IPv6 adoption by governments inevitable.

China, an important global player, already has over 600 million internet users, a lot more than the number of IPv4 addresses still available. China implemented IPv6 on a large scale for the 2008 Beijing Olympics that entailed live streaming of the sporting events to security cameras. This is the sort of game-changing infrastructure that points the way forward for other governments.

Many telecom operators and other service providers do offer IPv6 connectivity already. However, they have customers with many applications written for IPv4 and converting these to IPv6 will take time. In the interim, telcos and service providers have been offering translating capabilities between IPv4 and IPv6 to ease the migration. The solution has its drawbacks. In general, enterprises don’t have a sense of urgency to migrate to IPv6.

But they are wrong. In Asia Pacific, large increasingly affluent populations are acquiring all manner of Internet connected devices – many manufactured in the region itself – for personal and business use. Enterprises cannot afford to ignore the changing environment. All of these devices require an IP address. And many of them will only support IPv6. Enterprises need to be more informed about IPv6and that it is actually more fundamental to future business growth than they recognise.

One of the challenges of IPv6 is that it is incompatible with IPv4 — the two protocols cannot “talk” to each other. IPv4 and IPv6 networks are entirely separate. Traffic can’t travel from one network to the other without intervening technology. Enterprises with a presence on the Internet need to seriously consider how they are going to integrate IPv6 support into their environments.

However, is the transition to IPv6 as painful as industry analysts and IT pundits have led people to believe? Organizations cannot escape the fact that they need to support IPv6 if they want to continue providing consistent services to both IPv4 and IPv6 users. Perhaps, it might be less intimidating to view the task of providing support for IPv6 as an expansion rather than as a migration.

Good questions to ask might be: “When?” “Where?” and “How?” to extend support to IPv6 with the least amount of disruption, downtime, and additional infrastructure costs.

The “When” question is significant because before you can begin, you first need to find if your provider supports IPv6. If not, then find one that does. After you have the circuit, you need to request, obtain, and then allocate your IPv6 addresses. The organizational paperwork for this alone may take many months, so provide ample time in the process for this step.

In determining “Where?” to begin the transition, a good place to start would be to conduct a proof-of-concept rather than to configure production servers for IPv6 immediately. One reason for not using the production network from the onset is of course, the unquantifiable risks to existing IPv4 services and bandwidth issues. Going the proof-of-concept route mitigates the risks.

The question of “How?” to do it is the easiest to answer. The data center needs to have the capability, in the form of full proxy devices, to intelligently manage network traffic between users and applications. These devices must be able to view all interactions between client and server, understand and handle both IPv4 and IPv6 requests, or act as a gateway, translating IPv4 addresses to IPv6 and vice versa. Many of F5’s customers already have these capabilities because our devices are native IPv6. This is especially valuable in providing for website visits from IPv6 only devices.

Being able to expand upon a foundation that is IPv6gears organizations for the next generation Internet with its raft of new services and improved user experience. Organizations that remain IPv4 only will ultimately render themselves invisible to the world of IPv6 users.

Mohan Veloo is Senior Director, Field System Engineering, Asia Pacific & Japan, F5 Networks