Businesses and Industries: A Short Guide to IPv6
What happens when IPv4 address pool is finally depleted?
For network operators and other entities that rely on Internet numbering allocations, it will become increasingly difficult and expensive (and eventually prohibitively so) to obtain new IPv4 address space to grow their networks. The cost and complexity associated with keeping track of and managing remaining IPv4 address space efficiently will also increase.
Therefore, network operators and enterprises will need to implement IPv6 in order to ensure long-term network growth and global connectivity
What does the IPv4 address depletion mean for enterprises? Should they panic?
There is absolutely no reason to panic. The existing IPv4 Internet will continue to function exactly as it does today.
We have already seen considerable progress from service and content providers that support IPv6. They know they are the ones to lead the charge and they are setting a great example for enterprises and other entities. We anticipate that adoption of IPv6 will accelerate so users do not notice the impact of IPv4 depletion. If migration decelerates, US users might notice the impact within 12-18 months, but again, the momentum around this indicates we are well positioned to embrace IPv6 going forward. You can test your IPv6 readiness.
What, specifically, still needs to happen for the industry to effectively transition to IPv6?
The transition to IPv6 will require an industry-wide collaboration of Internet service providers, Web companies, hardware vendors and operating system vendors. All major industry players need to take action to ensure products and services are ready for the transition.
- Internet service providers need to make IPv6 connectivity available to their users.
- Web companies need to offer their sites and applications over IPv6.
- Operating system vendors may need to implement specific software updates.
- Backbone providers may need to establish IPv6 peering with each other.
- Hardware and home gateway manufacturers may need to update firmware.
Is IPv6 ready for deployment now?
There are three basic aspects involved in the deployment of IPv6: the protocol, the products, and the operational practices:
A. The IPv6 Protocol
IPv6 has benefited from over 10 years of development within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The core standards have been stable for many years and deployed in both research and operational contexts.
In addition to the core specifications, IPv6 includes a large number of individual standards that have a more limited applicability and are only needed in specialised environments. Additional development work will continue in these areas as new issues are discovered in response to deployment-specific scenarios.
Like the continuing evolution of IPv4, there will always be updates and additions to IPv6 in response to deployment experience. Thus, even though the core IPv6 specifications are stable, there will continue to be ongoing work on IPv6-related specifications.
B. IPv6 Products
The core IPv6 specifications are becoming increasingly available as a standard part of products and service offerings. However, not all products are fully IPv6 capable at this time and some significant upgrade gaps remain, especially in low-end consumer equipment. Similarly, while many software applications and operating systems (especially in open source code) have already been updated for IPv6, not all products (including some from major vendors) are fully IPv6 ready.
It is best to check with specific vendors on the IPv6 readiness of their individual products and services. In addition, in-house application software or custom code that interfaces with the network will likely need updating for IPv6.
C. IPv6 Operational Practices
Operational practices built up over many years for IPv4 networks will have to be adapted for IPv6. There is growing experience in the deployment of IPv6 in research networks and R&D projects, while some production networks (primarily in Japan and Korea) have been running IPv6 for a number of years.
IPv6 traffic today, however, remains small in comparison to IPv4. As more network operators deploy IPv6 and continue to exchange information about experience and best practices through established operators groups, the IETF, and other forums, the community knowledge level will grow.
In summary, IPv6 is ready for deployment, but additional effort is needed to make its use pervasive. The IETF, equipment vendors, application developers, network operators and end users all have roles to play in ensuring the successful widespread deployment of IPv6.
I run IT services. What should I be doing now to get ready?
Plan for IPv6 as you would for any major service upgrade:
Audit your current IPv6 capabilities and readiness. Assess the level of IPv6 technical knowledge within your staff and make plans for staff development and training that will support IPv6 implementation.
Identify which of your services will lose business if they are only accessible to IPv4-users and make them a priority for IPv6 capability. For example, you may plan to implement an IPv6-enabled front-end Web server immediately, before converting your internal network.
Remove obstacles to enabling IPv6 including any legacy systems that cannot be upgraded and choose a solution for them. Most likely, the solution will be an application level proxy that can support both IPv4 and IPv6 for the remaining lifetime of that system.
Plan upgrades and purchases so that you don’t find yourself needing to deploy and enable IPv6 but discover at a late stage that you are not ready because a key system dependency is not IPv6 capable.
Contact your vendors to find out about IPv6 support in their current products and future releases and ask your ISP about their plans to support IPv6.
I run an ISP with a block of IPv4 address space. Can I just convert that into IPv6 space?
You will need to obtain new IPv6 addresses in addition to your existing IPv4 address blocks. IPv4 address space that you have today can still be used in a dual IPv4-IPv6 environment. All Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) have policies that make it straightforward for an ISP with IPv4 space to apply for and receive IPv6 address space. For more information on how to acquire IPv6 addresses, contact the RIR for your region or your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
It may also be good idea to use this opportunity to redesign your addressing plan and take advantage of IPv6’s abilitity to more optimally assign subscriber address blocks. Similarly, customer sites may use IPv6 as an opportunity to redesign and optimise their internal addressing plan. However, it may be possible to re-use an existing subnet addressing plan within the new IPv6 block, if that is preferred.
Has IPv6 been added to the root servers yet?
On 4 February 2008, ICANN announced that it had added IPv6 to six of the 13 root servers, namely A, F, H, J, K, M, thus allowing for a fuller IPv6 usage of the Domain Name System (DNS). Since then, the L root has also been added to the list.
How much will the transition to IPv6 cost?
Since network needs and businesses differ, IPv6 transition strategies and related costs will also vary between organisations. Hardware and software vendors are increasingly integrating IPv6 as a standard feature in products, allowing organisations to deploy IPv6 as part of routine upgrade cycles.
For many organisations, the operational costs (including staff training, and one-time administrative costs of adding IPv6 to management databases and documentation) are likely to constitute the majority of the cost of upgrading to IPv6. Organisations that run in-house customised software will experience additional costs to upgrade these programs to IPv6 and enterprises that have test/release processes will see a marginal additional cost for the IPv6 configuration tests.
For end-users, operating systems such as Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux now incorporate IPv6 within their latest releases and will automatically use IPv6 if it is available. Applications are expected to follow as the global demand for IPv6 increases.
I have enough addresses today. Why should I bother implementing IPv6?
IPv6 is an important part of ensuring continued growth and accessibility of your services to the rest of the Internet and emerging markets in particular. As the Internet progressively becomes a dual IPv4/IPv6 network, ensuring that you are IPv6 enabled will be critical for retaining universal Internet connectivity for your clients, users, and subscribers, business partners and suppliers.
Indeed, as the difficulty and cost of obtaining IPv4 address space increases, it is inevitable that some sites will only support IPv6. Connectivity with such sites (and customers) will require IPv6.
It is also worth considering what services and devices may need to be supported over the next few years as the remaining IPv4 pool becomes depleted. Your existing address allocations may be insufficient to support a sudden increase in the number of connected devices per person (as many organisations experienced with the rapid deployment of IP-enabled wireless handheld products and similar devices a few years ago).
Is there a specific date when everything needs to be upgraded to IPv6?
No. There is no specific date when everything must be upgraded to IPv6 (although some organisations, including governments, have already identified target dates for their own IPv6 implementation). IPv6 and its transition mechanisms have been designed for a long period of co-existence with IPv4 and it is expected that IPv4-only systems and applications will survive for many years. However, IPv6-only systems are expected to arise and many of these users are likely to be in emerging business markets and developing countries.
Implementing IPv6 requires planning and with IPv4 address pool exhaustion expected around 2010-2011, planning needs to start now. Network operators and administrators should already be incorporating IPv6 into their network upgrade and procurement plans.
When will I need to turn off IPv4?
Possibly never. The purpose of deploying IPv6 is to ensure network growth and continued interconnectivity when IPv4 address space becomes depleted and difficult to obtain. In addition, as the global Internet continues to expand, it is likely that some Internet sites will only be available via IPv6.
To avoid problems, one should be fully IPv6-enabled by the time IPv6-only sites start appearing. However, in practice, it is only the public (or user) facing part of an enterprise's infrastructure that needs to be IPv6 enabled at the outset. The back-end infrastructure - which users do not interact with directly - can continue to be based entirely on IPv4, so long as that is the most cost-effective approach. Enterprises may determine that it is more cost-effective to progressively turn off IPv4 in parts of their network once it is no longer needed or in significant use.
In some situations, it might never be cost-effective (or possible) to upgrade certain legacy systems. Thus, it will likely be a decade or more before enterprise sites find themselves in a position to consider completely turning off IPv4. In practice, there is no need to turn it off so long as IPv4-only applications still remain in use.
Find out more
• Internet Society IPv6 Success Panel @ IETF 80