• United States
by Steve Taylor and Joanie Wexler

IPv6 looms on the horizon

Aug 21, 20033 mins

* Don't panic, but begin planning for IPv6

What do some of the emerging IP Version 6 mandates mean for enterprises in general?

First, there’s the U.S. Department of Defense’s recent edict that all IT assets procured, developed or acquired as of Oct. 1 must be IPv6-capable. The Defense Department has stated that it expects to complete its own transition to the protocol by 2008.

In addition, Third-Generation Partnership Project-2 standards mandate the use of IPv6 in 3G mobile devices. Depending on industry progress with emerging 3G wireless infrastructures and services, this could be a big IPv6 driver.

Some industry observers guesstimate that an industrywide transition to the next-generation protocol will take about a decade, but that organizations will be begin ramping up during the next two years. Indeed, IPv6 is making its way into infrastructure components. Cisco’s IOS router software is becoming IPv6-aware, for example, supporting various IPv4/IPv6 tunneling capabilities for network migration. And the networking vendor recently announced that its stateful firewalls will filter IPv6 packets during the first half of 2004.

You don’t have to feel particularly pressured yet to worry about massive upgrades to IPv6. But networks will not transition overnight. It’s best to get educated about migration techniques so you can plan to ease IPv6 into your environment when the timing is right.

Fortunately, you can upgrade one network segment without having to upgrade all others.

You can use the so-called dual-stack approach, for example.  This involves running both IPv4 and IPv6 in network devices. This way, network components can talk IPv4-to-IPv6, IPv6-to-IPv6 or IPv4-to-IPv4. A consideration here is that running two protocol infrastructures carries a price in terms of additional CPU and memory consumption.

There are also several tunneling techniques, each requiring at least one pair of dual-stack nodes somewhere in your network.  For example, if you start with pockets of IPv6 and leave the majority of your IPv4 network infrastructure intact, you can encapsulate IPv6 packets in IPv4 network address headers. Or, vice versa: the majority of your network could migrate to IPv6 while retaining a few legacy IPv4 devices with IPv4-in-IPv6 encapsulation.

It’s wise to check as to whether your network infrastructure vendor(s) support such migratory capabilities as you contemplate new procurements and plan for the future. And if you’re feeling as if you’d like a quick intro to IPv6 to start the educational process, there’s a new tutorial at Webtorials by independent consultant Gary Zielke from Infotel.