Internet is using myriad of network protocols, the most important one being IP or Internet Protocol. This is the layer in which network decides how to send a packet to a given destination. Currently we are using IPv4 which has been with us for quite some time now and as you can tell it is showing its age. There are a couple of pain points in IPv4 that can be solved by Ipv6:
· Address Space: IPv4 was designed to have 4 billion address spaces. Back in 1980s this was a huge number given the fact that there were only a couple of addresses being used. However the number of public IP addresses has grown to the limit. In fact Network Address Translation (NAT) and Classless Inter Domain Routing (CIDR) were technologies used to alleviate the address depletion problem. Number Resource Organization (NRO) has announced that almost %95 of addresses have been used. This means that last IP address blocks will probably be distributed in one year. If you want to provide an application on the Internet, you will probably need to use an IPv6 endpoint. Ipv6 will have 128 bit addresses which will be much larger in address space and is currently being used in Asia. We may well abandon use of NAT altogether when IPv6 is in use which will greatly simplify network topologies and firewall configurations.
· Security: When IPv4 was first designed, there was no security technologies needed. However as Internet grow security became an issue and different protocols were created to solve the problems. IPSec was one of the security protocols that have been widely used. The good news is that IPv6 was designed with IPSec from ground up. So as long as devices or servers are supporting IPv6, secure connection can be established easily between them.
· Configuration: IPv4 addresses need to be configured either manually or with DHCP service running on the network. Using DHCP can be a problem if there is more than one on the same network. IPv6 has address auto configuration properties so that nodes can configure their own IP address and default gateway without DHCP.
· Flow Priority: Prioritized real time delivery of data is a part of Ipv4 but has some limitations like lack of packet prioritization with encrypted packets. IPv6 fully supports these capabilities and has enhanced handling of flow priority.
Now that we have some understanding of what Ipv6 can bring to your organization let’s talk about how to get prepared for it. Internet backbone is already in the process of upgrade to Ipv6 and most of the work is done. The major part of the work needs to be done inside the organization. IPv4 has been used for so long that we expect every node (device and applications) to work seamlessly. However not every node will support use of Ipv6. You will first need to identify parts of your network that is not capable of using Ipv6. Then you will need to plan on replacing those nodes taking into account your device and application lifecycles. Most of the network devices are already Ipv6 ready. What I have been seeing is that applications are still in the process of upgrading to work with Ipv6. If you want to learn more about developing applications that work with IPv6 you can attend Microsoft PDC10 October 28-29 online or find the event closest to your home! See the map here.
You do not need wait until all of your devices are capable of supporting IPv6. There are transitioning technologies that will help you interoperate IPv4 with Ipv6 technologies. When you first start you will probably have a small subnet working IPv6 and use these technologies to communicate with the rest of your internal network and Internet. Gradually you will expand your Ipv6 networks up to your network edge firewall.
Ipv6 is the future and there is clearly no escape from it. The more you postpone your planning the more you will fall behind in adapting to the new networking capabilities of IPv6. I will urge all of the readers to think about what can be done to embrace IPv6 in their environment and create awareness for the upcoming changes.
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