Time to consider a move to IPv6

The growth of the IoT means organizations need to start considering migrating to IPv6. Failing to migrate will restrict their ability to be flexible and innovative.

Time to consider a move to IPv6
ARIN

Organizations should consider migrating their network infrastructure and devices over to IPv6. It may be a challenge to persuade leadership to prioritize it over other projects such as cloud computing or big data migrations, but it is essential to start planning for a migration.

Many service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, have already started using IPv6 addresses and are presently encouraging other organizations across the United States to do the same. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has encouraged organizations to move forward with these migrations for over a decade, and with more devices connecting to the internet, the need has increased. 

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IPv4 addresses have 32 bits, and this allows for only 4 billion addresses to be available for use. In comparison, IPv6 is 128 bits and supports 340 trillion addresses. You will never run out of address space with IPv6. 

Organizations should consider an IPv6 migration because there are fewer available public IPv4 addresses. Fewer than 17 million IPv4 addresses remain and the number, types of devices and sensors that need IP addresses are increasing with the growth of IoT. Cisco predicts that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020.  

Benefits of an IPv6 migration

There are many benefits to using IPv6. It can handle packets more efficiently, deliver better performance and increase security. IPv4 has a checksum that is calculated at every router hop. This calculation is not used in IPv6. The time that routers previously spent checking packet integrity can now be used to move the data forward. This can help improve application performance across a network. 

A benefit of IPv6 for internet service providers is it can reduce the size of routing tables by making it more hierarchical by reducing the size of routing tables. They will be able to aggregate their customers’ prefixes into a single prefix that can advertise IPv6 out to the internet. This enables packets to be processed more quickly by network devices. 

IPv4 uses broadcast communication, but IPv6 replaces it with multicast. Multicast enables bandwidth-intensive traffic to simultaneously be sent to multiple destinations. Disinterested hosts do not have to process broadcast packets. This reduces the amount of traffic on a local network and can contribute to a reduction in overall congestion.

With IPv6, devices can stay connected to several networks simultaneously. This is due to interoperability and configuration capabilities that enable IT staff to assign multiple IP addresses to the same device. The application will have the option to choose which network to connect to automatically.

IPv6 provides a more simplified network configuration because client-side IP address assignment is built into it. Instead of assigning addresses to devices via a DHCP server as you would with IPv4, IP addresses can be automatically assigned by the client device.

A significant issue with IPv4 is that it never was designed to be secure. IPv6, was designed to be secure. The integrity and authenticity of IPv6 packets are guaranteed through encryption and provides VPN-like protection for standard internet traffic. IPv6 can help ensure that internet traffic gets to the correct destination without being intercepted and thus contributes to preventing packet spoofing attacks.

Challenges of an IPv6 migration

Migration to IPv6 can be a complex process. It will involve upgrading, reconfiguring and testing various hardware devices and software. Routers, switches, servers, application settings, laptops, smartphones, firewalls, etc. will need to be updated. Policy and procedure documentation will also have to be updated. For larger organizations, all this work could take years to complete.

Before a migration to IPv6, it is critical for an organization to train its key technical design and support staff on it. Without this training, an organization risks having a poorly designed IPv6 scheme, which can contribute to system downtime, more complicated network and decreased security. Complexity can significantly increase while running both IPv4 and IPv6.

Another risk of running IPv6 is that some legacy hardware and applications do not support it. During a migration, the devices on the network need to have an IPv6 address and an IPv4 address. If the device cannot use an IPv6 address, it will cause conflicts in not being able to properly communicate. As the network evolves and migrates further towards IPv6, it will progressively lose more communication with the network until the device is replaced with one that supports IPv6.

In the 21st century, technological innovation has become one of the most important keys to business success. From IP phones to IP-enabled appliances populating the internet, businesses rely on technologies' ability to deliver new services to both end users and customers. The systems and infrastructure used to support them require IP addresses, and that means an IPv6 migration. Organizations that decide not to migrate to IPv6 will restrict their ability to be flexible, innovative and drive business growth.

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