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A phased approach to IPv6 that's so easy, you'll almost think you're still ignoring it

By John Matthews, CIO, F5 Networks, special to Network World
July 30, 2012 03:36 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Remember when you were a kid and you got so tired of your parents nagging you to clean your room, you finally just stopped listening?

It's kind of that way with IPv6.

IT departments are weary of hearing how they urgently need to move to IPv6 because IPv4 addresses aren't available anymore. The truth is, many U.S. companies still have enough IPv4 addresses to last them several years, so no problem, right?

Wrong. Here's the catch: Three-quarters of the world is already embracing IPv6 because IPv4 is not an option for them. That means if your company doesn't support IPv6, inevitably your public-facing, IPv4-based Web properties and content will be unreachable by a significant portion of your customers, suppliers, partners, vendors and contractors.

IN THE NEWS: Europe's supply of IPv4 addresses nearing depletion

Now, that is a problem -- especially if your company expects to provide a consistent level of B2B service and continue growing globally. I don't know any IT pro who wants to answer to shareholders for lost revenue because the company didn't take IPv6 seriously.

Still, when it's questionable whether an IPv6 initiative will significantly increase your bottom line in the near term -- say the next two to four quarters -- it's tough to justify bumping it to P1 status.

The good news is, you don't have to. With careful planning, most enterprises can gradually integrate IPv6 without spending a lot of money, consuming a lot of IT resources, or disrupting day-to-day operations.

Of course you'll need to lay the initial groundwork -- obtain your IPv6 address range, arrange to get IPv6 circuits from your ISP, determine how you want to allocate addresses, and so on. If you haven't taken these steps yet, you're already behind the curve. Do it now. This part of the process can take a lot longer than you think. When you're ready to draw up your implementation plan, consider taking the following phased approach.

Phase I: Put your focus where it matters: on customers and the general public.

As your global customers, vendors, partners and suppliers move to IPv6, your initial goal is to enable clients -- whether individuals or businesses -- to connect to your website. These people must be able to reach you to continue doing business with you. Today, 90% of them might operate on IPv4, but it's only a matter of time before you need to work with a supplier or manufacturer in India or China that can only operate on IPv6.

If you use dual-stacked application delivery controllers (ADCs) to manage traffic to your Web servers, you can accomplish this step making few if any changes to the servers themselves. ADCs that understand both IPv4 and IPv6 can be used as gateway devices to proxy IPv6 traffic to IPv4. Assign your ADCs the new virtual IPv6 addresses and have them point to your existing IPv4-based Web servers. Then, add those new IPv6 addresses to your DNS server and make them publicly available on IPv6 to establish your presence on the IPv6 Internet. Your ADC devices will continue handling requests from IPv4 clients as usual, but they will also be able to serve requests from IPv6-only clients, directing them to your existing IPv4-based Web servers.

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