On June 8th of last year, an event known as World IPv6 Day was celebrated. Well, “celebrated” might carry a little too much emphasis – perhaps instead, World IPv6 Day was observed. And what did you do to celebrate this observance of the future? Well, if you are like much of the users of the internet world, you probably did not even know that such an observance was being held. Not to worry, in just over two months you can join the celebration this year as we are all going to observe World IPv6 Launch 2012! And, what is World IPv6 Launch 2012? By June 6, 2012 many major Internet Service Provider’s, home networking equipment manufacturers, and web companies around the world are coming together to permanently enable IPv6 on their products and services. But the question that is still asked by a lot of people is, “What exactly is all this fuss about anyway?”
IPv6 is the next generation IP protocol designed to address the short comings of the currently used IPv4 protocol. While it is true that casual internet users really do not need to know or really understand the underlying protocol that allows their computer to connect to others over the internet, these users do get concerned when this connection is no longer functional. While things are functional at the present, things are beginning to change at an ever increasing rate. Recently, the organization that delegates the global pool of both IPv4 and IPv6 address spaces, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), depleted its remaining free IPv4 address blocks by assigning them to the regional authorities. While there are still new IPv4 addresses to be had, they are growing scarcer by the day. It is becoming increasingly important for companies and IT departments to begin to concern themselves with this next generation protocol. In the not too distant future, and sooner rather than later in certain parts of the world, businesses and individuals will only be able to obtain an IPv6 address. While there are mechanisms in place which would allow those users to connect to a site with only an IPv4 address, this would not be the native connection and that mechanism would introduce another layer of complexity and another point of failure to the network.
The transition to IPv6 has already taken a long time and, unfortunately, things are only just getting started in earnest. IPv6 has been in the works since the early 1990’s but, as a whole, industry has made very little progress in implementation except in the last few years. Certainly there are many factors that have played a part in the delay – even some of the best known networking product companies have not exactly been doing much to help the IPv6 cause. For example, it was not until the last couple of years that Cisco, arguably the best known networking product manufacturer, supported IPv6 in the base versions of their switch and router operating system, IOS. There is no doubt that a daunting task lie ahead, the world over, in reconfiguring and upgrading every inter-connected device on the internet. And while that is already an impressive amount of work to be done, every day that the transition is delayed, more devices are added to the internet that will have to be reconfigured as a part of this inevitable transition.
We are now standing at the edge of a major transition. This transition will completely change the way the internet works – for the better. IPv4’s days are numbered. The depletion of the address space is just the first problem. Fortunately, the impact of the address depletion was not noticed by casual users of the internet. But subsequent problems will begin to have progressively more noticeable impacts on those same users.
The good news is that IPv6 and the transition to IPv6 need not be scary. IPv6 has many good, and frankly, very cool new features available within the protocol. Learning from the shortcomings in IPv4, engineers built into the design for IPv6 solutions to many of the problems that still plague IPv4 networks today. For example, in the very early days of the internet, every client on the network had a “public” address. As available address space shrunk, engineers addressed the problem by expanding on the idea of private network ranges. These private networks would then have to be translated out of one or many public internet connections. This introduced the concept known as Network Address Translation (NAT). While NAT has prolonged the life of the IPv4 internet, it has also greatly increased the complexity of network configurations – and the salaries of network engineers. In the future, the IPv6 address space is so large, that we will once again be able to return to the simplicity of having end-to-end device connectivity utilizing unique public addresses.
Is your organization prepared for the impending IPv6 transition? In my next post, I will discuss a couple of free services and tools that will provide you the ability to connect yourself to the IPv6 internet which will provide you an invaluable opportunity to learn about this fundamental change to the way the world is connected. In the meantime, if you find that you have more questions than answers regarding what lies ahead, we welcome the opportunity to work with your organization as we address this transition together.
SPK and Associates