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Should Enterprises Avoid or Embrace IPv6?

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IPv6 is the next generation Internet Protocol (IP) standard intended to eventually replace IPv4. IT executives must consider what will happen when migrating their organizations to the latest version. Most haven’t budgeted for the transition, and implementation is hard to justify on a return-on-investment (ROI) basis because it’s is a cost without obvious financial benefit. Some leaders want to buy more IPv4 addressees to postpone the IPv6 migration, which works now. But sooner or later, the IPv6 transition must be completed.
IPv4 vs. IPv6
Every Internet endpoint needs a numerical IP address to communicate with other devices. The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) equipment makes the address limitations of IPv4 more apparent–IPv4 is running out of addresses.
IPv6 is the sixth revision to the IP and the successor to IPv4. It operates similarly to IPv4. The main difference is that IPv6 utilizes a 128-bit IP address. The number of IPv6 addresses is 1028 times greater than the number of IPv4 addresses.
There are many other improvements that IPv6 delivers including:
  • No more NAT (Network Address Translation)
  • Auto-configuration
  • Simplified, more efficient routing
  • True quality of service (QoS)
  • Integrated authentication and privacy support
Influence of IoT
IPv6 has capabilities that are missing from IPv4 that make it advantageous for IoT deployments. For starters, there’s a significantly expanded address space supporting large IoT networks. IPv6 can help preserve the battery life of IoT devices as well as reducing the administrative and maintenance burden.
IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks (6LoWPAN) allows IPv6 packets to be compressed, encapsulated, and split up into multiple smaller frames to send over wireless networks. 6LoWPAN requires a gateway (edge) device to connect the native IPv6 network to the IoT-device network. This goal constrains the use of IPv6 multicast to maximize battery life.
What Happens When Avoiding IPv6
As I’ve mentioned in this related No Jitter article, selling and buying IPv4 addresses is a phenomenon that’s stimulated by some business realities. IPv4 addresses are IT assets and can become available for purchase during company acquisitions, or as companies file for bankruptcy. When two organizations merge, the resulting business will end up owning more IPv4 addresses than necessary. Early user recipients of sizeable IP address space may now rely on their internet service provider (ISP) or carrier to supply routable IP addresses, reducing the utilization of their independently-owned IPv4 address inventory. Searching Google, I found 2,400 hits on buying and selling IPv4 addresses.
Challenges to Overcome
Migrating to IPv6 is a business as well as a technical decision. The first issue is convincing management to proceed with the migration to IPv6. IPv6 is not replacing your IPv4 network. They will be running concurrently. This impacts the IT budget.
Ensure that you have a plan that will detail information such as timelines, devices to be migrated, and implementation priorities. Break the complex situation into manageable elements that are easier to work on. Don’t forget to communicate to the rest of the organization.
The devices on the network must be able to support an IPv6 address, while still operating with the existing IPv4 addresses. If the device can’t support the IPv6 address, it won’t be locatable or communicate properly. You may have to employ tunnels to compensate. You may be able to use the IPv4. As the IPv6 capable systems go live, the legacy (IPv4) systems will become more of a liability.
Lastly, you must determine how to handle the existing IPv4 inventory. That will involve getting new equipment, deploying it, and retaining the old devices temporarily for backup purposes, then disposing of it. The entire migration will take time, resources, planning, and staff training, and you can expect to host frequent meetings that cover a substantial amount of gathered information.
A Dual Stack Solution
There will be a transition period during migration because organizations can’t move all its operations at once. A reasonable solution is to implement dual IP stacks. The organization should start by enabling both TCP/IP protocol stacks on the wide area network (WAN) core routers, perimeter routers, and firewalls, followed by data-center routers and desktop access routers. The applications in the endpoint may also have to implement a dual stack operation since not all will have IPv6 installed.
Many hardware and software vendors already support dual stack capabilities, which will probably be necessary for several years if your business has Internet connections with customers and suppliers that may migrate to IPv6 on a different schedule.
Going forward, organizations should explore how to make their systems utilize IPv6. Network engineers should actively work to deploy the IPv6 infrastructure in-advance before becoming impacted by the IoT deployments. The organization should also obtain its IPv6 address resources from the Regional Internet Registry (RIR), and then follow additional guidance posted here.

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