Every device connected to the Internet—such as your smartphone, computer, tablet, even certain high-tech household devices—must be assigned an IP address for identification and location addressing in order to communicate with other devices. With the number of new devices being connected to the Internet rapidly increasing, it’s no wonder IPv4 addresses were predicted to run out.
We’ve been talking about the cut-over from IPv4 to IPv6 for years now, and it was expected that IPv4 would run out of addresses in late 2011. With that in mind, the federal government set two deadlines for migrating to IPv6:
• All federal organizations must be IPv6-compliant by Sept. 30, 2012. This included public/external facing servers and services, such as Webmail, Domain Name Server (DNS), and Internet Service Provider (ISP) services.
• Internal client enterprise networks were given until the end of fiscal year 2014.
Well, it appears the first date has been largely ignored, much as it was back in 2005, with only a small percentage of Internet traffic adopting the new protocol. And there don’t seem to be any consequences or penalties as a result of not meeting the first mandate.
So, Why Haven’t Sites Migrated?
IPv6 was formally announced in 1996. There have been various initiatives to encourage people to move to it, such as the World IPv6 Launch on June 6, 2012, and announcements of IPv4 addresses running out throughout 2011. However, many companies don’t see the benefits of migrating, as they already have the IP addresses they need to conduct business. Other organizations have avoided the need to migrate by using techniques such as Network Address Translation (NAT), which lets ISPs and enterprises hide their private network addresses behind a single, publicly routable, Internet-facing IPv4 address.
There are other issues associated with the use of IPv6 addressing. Not many ISPs currently support it, nor do routers or internal routing at phone companies. Even though routers, switches and other networking hardware bought within the last two years are most likely IPv6-capable, ISPs, phone companies and businesses will likely incur huge costs replacing older hardware. According to network testing specialists, Ixia, ISPs and enterprises upgrading their networks to IPv6 are likely to incur costs running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Managers may have mixed feelings about the fact that since their smartphone and tablet will have an IP address, the Internet will need to know where those devices are in order to deliver PUSH messages. And that means there will be a record of wherever their phone has been! On the other hand, devices can roam among different networks without losing their network connectivity.
In addition, sites may feel that having a public-facing IP address makes them less secure and more open to cyber attack. They may feel that any kind of migration is going to impact their every day activities, which in turn could impact their bottom line. There’s a natural reluctance to embrace change unless there’s an obvious and immediate benefit. As is often the case, when weighing the benefits of a migration, more weight is given to short-term benefits and less weight is given to longer-term ones. This explains why so many sites have yet to migrate to IPv6.
The Benefits of IPv6
The first obvious benefit is there are far more addresses available. IPv6 provides 340 trillion addresses whereas IPv4 provides roughly only 4 billion addresses. Migrating to IPv6 provides these additional benefits:
• IPv6 networks are easier to manage; they provide auto-configuration capabilities and are simpler and flatter. Auto configuration offers the benefit of true out-of-the-box, plug-and-play connectivity. This removes much of the burden currently felt by IPv4 network managers. IPv4 networks must be configured manually or with DHCP. Being simpler and flatter means they’re easier to manage, particularly across large installations. Also, a flat network provides more paths through the network and can maximize bandwidth and promote lower latency, which enhances performance.
• Direct addressing is possible, providing end-to-end connective integrity. The large number of addresses available means there’s virtually no need for NAT.
• Security with IPv6 is so much better than IPv4. Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) is built into the IPv6 protocol and is usable with a suitable key infrastructure. IPSec support was an optional feature with IPv4. IPsec allows authentication, encryption and integrity protection at the network layer.
• IPv6 enables more efficient routing, because routing tables can be so much smaller, and more efficient packet processing, because of IPv6’s simplified packet header.
• IPv6 provides integrated interoperability and mobility capabilities that are already widely used in network devices.
• Multicasting, which allows organizations to send messages to multiple devices at once
• Organizations can push information to their users. For example, your bank could push out a message telling you that your last transaction caused your account to be overdrawn.