How to ensure network well-being while making the transition to IPv6

The explosive growth of the Internet means that we need more addresses than IPv4 can provide. Luckily, IPv6 has a much larger address space. To be exact, it supports a total of 2128 (about 3.4×1038) addresses. On top of that, IPv6 offers the ability to have longer IP addresses, which will prove beneficial for various web applications and provides an almost endless availability of addresses, which offers the possibility to assign a unique IP address not only to every device in a network but to each single service.

With World IPv6 Launch Day just around the corner on June 6, there are many things network administrators should be aware of in order to smoothly make the transition. To be honest, the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 won’t be easy. It presents a real challenge that will affect all areas of IT infrastructure. It is a change that will see widespread impact on all systems, requiring an upgrade of network gear and software.

The good news is that things will become easier when IPv6 is implemented. The new paradigm specifies that IP addresses will no longer be assigned to a device, but to a service. IPv6 addresses will be unique, so there will be no need for network address translation (NAT) anymore, and each Internet user can be identified and contacted directly via their personal IP address. Of course, networks can also still be configured in an “old-fashioned” way, not allowing identification of single users.

It’s vital to ensure your network’s well being to ensure the IPv6 transition is as smooth as possible. Network monitoring solutions that are equipped to support the next-gen Internet Protocol enable IT administrators to monitor mixed network infrastructures with one tool, which drastically simplifies the monitoring process while making the transition. In general, network monitoring is essential for businesses in order to ensure everyday operations continue to run smoothly especially during the IPv6 transition. It helps your business to stay healthy by avoiding outages, addressing bottlenecks before problems occur, and reducing costs by being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to addressing network hiccups.

In order to make a smooth transition, here are several things to note:

Timeline

There will probably be IPv4 “islands” for a very long time, as all corporate networks and private home networks are currently operating on IPv4, and there is no actual need to switch to IPv6 right now. However, with new devices coming to offices and homes all supporting IPv6, a parallel usage of both protocols will be the first step, and finally, the transitition to IPv6 will be the natural process. It will probably be quite organic, and therefore take several years to establish. We probably need a catalyst to speed things up: similar to the uptake of broadband – once there are applications for it and users see the real benefit for their every-day-life, they will more quickly accept and want it. In the very near future, we will have IPv6 in the WAN (Internet), connecting IPv4 networks in our homes and offices.

Adoption

Not many people are using IPv6 just yet. Right now, IPv6 is supported by every major Operating System vendor and by many core network services. Also, the majority of network hardware manufacturers have IPv6 implementations, while smart device manufacturers have already developed products that leverage IPv6. However, as a whole, only a very small percentage of the population are currently using IPv6. International IPv6 Day took place in June of 2011, and a number of the world’s biggest companies participated in the 24 hour trial, including; Facebook, Google, Bing, Mozilla, Yahoo and Nasa. So far, so good: no major problems have been reported.

Security

Ultimately, IPv6 will simplify network administration and make networks more secure. With IPv6, you can choose an IP address that is either private (not reachable from the outside world, but only from the local network) or public (reachable from the outside world, e.g. via the internet). Right now, permanent IP addresses) may provoke privacy issues, as they allow detailed tracking. With IPv6 the decision is already made when choosing the IP address (either from the private or the public IP range). In the future, we will be able to easily determine whether or not an IP address is public. This transparency should add to better security.

Benefits

I really do believe that the benefits outweigh the pain – and it is only a matter of time before we all need to make the move. There’s no fixed deadline, but smart companies should be turning their attention to IPv6 now, slowly making the transition so as to avoid a major disruption and need to go through a steep learning curve in the future. And actually, what they’ll find is that many things become easier when IPv6 is implemented, such as VPNs and NATs.

Dirk Paessler, CEO of Paessler AG, is an engineer, entrepreneur, computer networking professional and software guru. To learn more about Dirk and his expertise in network monitoring, visit his blog at http://www.paessler.com/blog

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