How Important Is the IPv6 Integration for Your Organization?
By Patrick Grossetete and Ciprian Popoviciu
Over the past six months, not a single week passed without some press coverage of IPv6 related topics and IPv6 events around the world. Recently, the Cisco Live 2008 event in Orlando, Florida offered several hours worth of presentations about the technology and its deployment. The interest in IPv6 is rapidly growing, sometimes bringing forward a sense of urgency. So, how does all this interest relate to you and your organization?
The main problem facing us, and one of the primary drivers for IPv6 adoption, is the need for IP addressing resources to sustain the Internet’s growth, to sustain the growing positive impact the Internet has on our lives and on the global economy! We faced this problem before when the number of digits used for a phone number became insufficient to service a growing user base. The evolution of the IP protocol from IPv4 to IPv6 is similar to the upgrade of the telephony system from 6 to 8 to 10 digits. Were those extra digits important to your organization if you already had sufficient telephone numbers and good regional coverage? Not sure! This upgrade was, however, crucial for local, regional, national, and international economy and communications, bringing millions of people into a common communication infrastructure.
Similarly, people connect to the Internet through many and varied devices regardless of their location, and for a multitude of applications thus requiring billions of addresses and additional plug-and-play capabilities.
Can we address the growing needs of the Internet using the available resources with the existing version of the Internet Protocol or IPv4? The answer is No; not without adding significant complexity to networks and applications leading to potential loss of flexibility for innovation and subsequent increase of cost of Internet accessibility for users and for organizations. This topic has been extensively analyzed in a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report. With large ISPs planning for IPv6 integration while pursuing stop-gap solutions for the address exhaustion, organizations will experience an increase in operational complexity when supporting their communication needs through a dual-stack environment.
The latest forecast for IPv4 address space exhaustion is now forcing the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to evaluate the requirements for Carrier-class NAT solutions. Those proposals provide short term, stop-gap solutions to the problems we face and in fact they highlight the importance of considering IPv6 as technology. The deployment and use of IPv6 is the only viable, long-term solution. Overall, for your organization, the urgency of dealing with this solution really depends on where you stand with the deployment and usage of IP today. There are several questions that can help you determine your status:
The WCCP forwarding method determines how intercepted traffic is transmitted from the WCCP server (IOS) to the WCCP client (for example, a WAE running Cisco WAAS). There are two different forwarding methods:
- Are you doing business in countries/regions endorsing IPv6 for the future of their communications? If yes, how much can you afford to lose when some of your e-business sites may not be reachable by your customers or partners? What if you will be able to reach customers and partners only with limited capabilities, not allowing the use of Web 2.0 collaboration tools? What is the potential loss of not being able to enter or grow in markets which are promoting and adopting IPv6?
- Are you doing business with other organizations which are adopting IPv6; how much can you afford to lose if you can’t meet their requirements anymore?
- Do you need to grow your Intranet but can't get the public address space required?
- Are you planning to upgrade your organization’s PC and servers to the new generation of operating systems (Microsoft Server 2008, Microsoft Windows Vista, Apple MacOS 10.x, Linux 2.6, etc.) that come with IPv6 "on" and "preferred" by default? What if you want to take advantage of the Microsoft P2P framework for your application? This framework is available with Microsoft Vista only over IPv6. What if you want to take advantage of the L3 clustering capabilities of Server 2008 which run only over IPv6?
- Even if you upgrade the OS in your network without the intent of using IPv6 enabled capabilities, all those upgraded devices will be able to run IPv6 over IPv4 tunnels, thus requiring specific actions to be taken in order to secure the network against back door threats.
- Are you planning an IP integration of new devices such as video surveillance cameras, networked sensors for energy saving, etc? These devices, which require many addresses due to their large numbers, could run IPv6 from day one as no legacy exists.
Does this mean that all elements are already in place to fully upgrade your network to IPv6 now? Unfortunately not! If routers and switches are now fully IPv6 capable, an IP network is built using many other types of devices which may have not yet reached the same level of IPv6 readiness and maturity. This is why good planning for IPv6 integration is essential to its deployment.
For more information, check out the Cisco Press book Global IPv6 Strategies: From Business Analysis to Operational Planning by Patrick Grossetete, Ciprian Popoviciu, and Fred Wettling. See book details in the "About the authors" section below.
There is no generic answer on how important IPv6 is for your organization, but this is definitely the right time to seriously consider the technology realizing it will require months, if not years, before every component of your organization’s IT infrastructure runs only over IPv6.