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Is IPv6 the New Y2K? (Primer)

You may have heard buzz on the topic of transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 technology. So far, there are jargon-filled pleas urging organizations to switch, but little clear-cut guidance on how to tackle that transition. Some wonder: Is it akin to the Y2K days, where organizations spent thousands of dollars and hours to prevent doom and gloom? Not quite. With Y2K, the risk was that with the dawn of the millennium all systems would cease to function. IPv6 does not pose that type of risk. Even still, it is a critical issue for government agencies, non-profit organizations and corporations that conduct public or customer-facing interactions over the Web.

IPv4 vs. IPv6

Before we tackle what you need to know to best serve your organization, let's review the primary issues related to the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. An Internet Protocol (IP) address is an identifier for a computer on a TCP/IP network. TCP/IP connects hosts on the Internet and helps transmit data over networks. While users rely on easy-to-remember domain names to find businesses or computers on the Web, TCP/IP networks do not. Instead, they rely on IP addresses. DNS service then "translates" the user-friendly domain names to the network-required IP addresses.

When IP technology was originally developed, it was done so with a limited (albeit massive) number of IP addresses. Today, we've essentially run out of addresses; IPv4 isn't big enough to support the global demand for networks. IPv6 on the other hand is big enough to support demand. And it is so much bigger in terms of capacity, that running out of space should never again be an issue.

Because of the manner in which addresses are assigned and managed, IPv4 addresses are actually still available. However, in time, that inventory will be depleted. When that happens, only IPv6 addresses will be available.

So what does that mean for your organization?

It means you will need to determine which areas of your organization should be supported by IPv4 versus IPv6. Since the IPv4 protocol is not going away any time soon, there will still be plenty of uses for an existing IPv4 network. In fact, it's likely that most of your internal, Intranet communications and operations can continue on IPv4 for many years to come.

But if you are planning to grow through the launch new networks, products, or web-base­­d services, you must be prepared to transition to an IPv6 environment. That's because IPv4­­­ and IPv6 are not compatible. They do not speak to each other. Users on an IPv4 network cannot view or access information on an IPv6 network and vice versa. Sooner or later, much of the world will be on IPv6. As a result, when it comes to having an Internet presence abroad, staying on IPv4 (even if you could secure an IPv4 address) could be a huge mistake.

Think of it this way. A global organization that chooses to stay on IPv4 is similar to a Paris-based business that decides to communicate only in French. That's fine if you want to serve a small niche, but if you want to reach consumers or clients in China, Japan, the US, the UK, Germany, or Italy, you need to speak the language of your audience. Otherwise, you're limiting your ability to expand and communicate with your target markets. So if you are a global player, you need to transition to IPv6 in order to be visible to your customers, partners and stakeholders around the world. It's really that simple.

Three Key Tips

There are three tips to keep in mind as you consider your options and analyze your business needs related to IPv6:

  1. Start now to plan for the transition. As mentioned, it's likely there will be some part of your business that never transitions from IPv4. But the sooner you can identify business units or channels that need to transition, the better off your organization will be. It will allow you more time to research, design, implement, monitor and test your new IPv6 presence and work out the kinks that go along with deploying new technologies. You will also be able to deploy solutions throughout your organization to support IPv6 and plan how you will enable IPv4 users to have fall-back access. The point is to give your transition effort some leeway, understanding it as a top priority even though it may not appear to be an emergency today.
  2. Gain IPv6 Expertise. Because the technology is new, the more you can stack your team with credentialed professionals who have IPv6 experience, the better off you will be. As one example, the original assumption for IPv6 transitions was to use a 'dual stacked' approach, meaning that whatever you had on IPv4 would be duplicated on an IPv6 network so that they could operate in parallel. But if you are launching a new service which does not exist on your IPv4 network, a dual-stacked approach is not feasible. Being able to rely on IT staff members who understand these challenges will be critical.
  3. Expect a period of uncertainty. Again, considering that IPv6-based technology is in its infancy, there will be a learning curve and a time of trial and error with the transition. You will be upending all of the systems and technology that have been long-deployed in your organization, as well as changing how you manage and route traffic to the network. And all the while, the software will be immature and unproven. For all of these reasons, it's best to anticipate that transitioning to IPv6 may be a bumpy road.

The good news is that you are well in advance of the time when you will need IPv6 to interact with the world. From where we stand today, there is plenty of time to be proactive and to get ready for the change. In that one way IPv6 is a bit like Y2K: You know it's coming. . . if you can prepare for its arrival, then when it does come it can look and feel like any other ordinary day.

About Neustar

Neustar

NeuStar provides market-leading and innovative services that enable trusted communication across networks, applications, and enterprises around the world. (Learn More)

Related topics: Internet Protocol, IP Addressing, IPv6

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