An IP address is like a phone number for a computer, and IPv6 represents the first update to the Internet’s address system since IPv4 introduction in 1974. The issue which we now face is that nearly all of the available IPv4 addresses have been allocated. Similar to the earth’s precious coal and oil reserves, once the supply of IPv4 addresses is exhausted, a new source is required. IPv6 supplies a virtually endless source of addresses for the future.
At the same time, it’s no secret that the adoption of BYOD has accelerated over the past few months in many enterprises, confirmed most recently by research from the Yankee Group, which expects the average person to have 10 networked devices by 2015.
We know that enterprise employees are, first and foremost, independent consumers, and sooner or later the proliferation of powerful, portable consumer devices that have improved personal communication will affect the enterprise networks. This is creating a huge issue for enterprise CIOs and IT teams worldwide, both in terms of security and network access – and IPv6.
Although the latest IP standard has been given a big boost after the World IPv6 Day last year, many businesses are still placing network upgrades further down their priority list. And with nearly a quarter of organisations still unsure of what IPv6 actually is, it’s clear that enterprises face a huge issue in moving over to the new Internet protocol.
IPv6 makes room for more people, more companies, and more devices on the Internet than IPv4, and allows for trillions of addresses – which is of vital importance because the rate at which new devices are introduced is only accelerating. The proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, as well as the increasing number of machine-to-machine connections is driving this demand, which will vastly increase over the next few years.
With the pace of growth of connected devices, the transition to IPv6 for all enterprises is inevitable.
Inevitable shift to IPv6 – faster, secure, enabling virtualisation and SDN
The IPv6 protocol brings a number of benefits, including the ability to provide faster performance over virtual private networks (VPN) and making local networks significantly easier to manage than with IPv4. The new protocol also offers improved quality of service (QoS) for more reliable voice and video performance and ensures better coverage and throughput for mobile devices.
Another benefit of IPv6 is that it facilitates and simplifies virtualisation across the entire infrastructure, including network and storage resources, as well as providing resources and functions to make software-defined networking scale more easily.
All new devices support IPv6 as standard, but the issue remains with older devices. How does an enterprise maintain business continuity across both versions of IP addresses?
Keep your addresses side-by-side
Every device which connects to the Internet must work with the new IPv6 standard, and if an enterprise simply continues to maintain IPv4, they will eventually run out of addresses to support a BYOD strategy. One solution to the issue of multiple devices in a BYOD strategy is the idea of “dual-stacking”.
Completing an IPv6 implementation project doesn’t involve tearing down an ageing IPv4 network and replacing it entirely with a new IPv6-enabled network. Instead, the IPv4 and IPv6 networks can run in parallel, in a dual-stack network.
At the moment, if an enterprise has IPv4 on its computers, it’s possible to add IPv6 onto the same machines and eventually remove the IPv4 address. This approach allows enterprises to dip a toe in the water – to test IPv6 and gradually shift across entirely, as and when required.
And the secret to supporting such a strategy and doing so securely is knowing exactly where your IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are, what they are being used for, by whom and on which device. Network administrators that rely on managing addresses with spreadsheets will fail because that methodology is simply no longer tenable in a complex v4 and v6 network environment.
A spreadsheet won’t do – use a roadmap…
IPv6 is likely to become a full-blown issue in about two years, and it will take enterprises even more time to fully deploy IPv6. It’s not about rush deployments, but the need to assess your given environment in order to understand the situation.
A big requirement for enterprises is to draw an appropriate roadmap for IPv6 migration, keeping in mind their business continuity needs and strategic goals. IPv4 and IPv6 can – and will – coexist in the immediate future, but this will make things more complex to manage via a simple spreadsheet.
…and automate IP Address Management
One key way to achieve this is through automation. Automating IP address management eliminates the labour-intensive, error-prone manual tasks involved in reassigning IP addresses, and will better prepare enterprises for the future. Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s market-leading VitalQIP does exactly that by streamlining address management and cutting administrative costs for enterprises. Based on a recent IDC study, VitalQIP customers on average see a ROI of over 900 percent, and a payback period of 106 days.
Companies can reap multiple benefits by migrating to IPv6 early, and eventually IPv6 will be the only Internet protocol in use. IT departments will be left behind if they do not address the issue now. The transition can be smooth with the right preparation, and because the move to the new protocol won’t happen overnight, there’s plenty of time for every size of business to roll out IPv6.
By Brian Shorland