How to Save Time and Money Making Your Transition to IPv6

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Is 6 in your company's mix?

IPv6 is inevitable. Version 6 of the Internet Protocol is taking over from the 30-year-old IPv4 standard.

Within the next one to five years, your business will need IPv6 to communicate on the Internet. How will your company make the transition?

We've slimmed this complex subject down to nine strategies—steps that can save your business time and money by slowing the need for replacements and mitigating risks. First, though, let's answer two burning questions: why and when make the transition.

Why Care About Version 6?

IPv6 remedies the depletion of the nearly 4.3 billion IPv4 32-bit addresses with a theoretically endless supply of unique 128-bit addresses. Other benefits of IPv6 that you may experience include:

  • Faster performance due to more efficient routing and better multicasting, and faster transactions over VPNs
  • Stronger security due to mandatory IP Security (IPsec) in IPv6 devices
  • Improved support for mobile devices and quality of service (QoS), enabling better performance of video streaming, VoIP, and other communications

What's the Timeline?

Some networks will migrate sooner, others later.

  • The last IPv4 address stocks in the Asia Pacific region ran out in April 2011. They are expected to run out in Europe and the Middle East later in 2011, and in North America in 2012.
  • U.S. government agencies are required to switch their public-facing networks to IPv6 by September 2012.
  • Many businesses have already obtained IPv6 addresses.
  • IPv6 is implemented in operating systems from Cisco, Microsoft, Apple, and other vendors; in applications; and in 4G mobile networks.
  • Public tests of IPv6 websites on World IPv6 Day in June 2011 demonstrated that IPv6 can run without disrupting IPv4 users.

It makes sense for all businesses to begin getting ready—but you can wait for a compelling business reason to justify significant expenses.

Following are steps that can guide your transition. You may want an expert adviser, such as a Cisco Certified Partner, to help you do some of this.

Preserve Your Investment in IPv4

1. Investigate your upstream connectivity. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) now offer IPv6 services. Ask your ISP for its timeline, and how it will support both IPv4 and IPv6. Find out if it will resolve the IPv4 address shortage by assigning your new IP nodes only IPv6 access or a shared IPv4 address, which is used exclusively within your ISP network and goes through Network Address Translation (NAT) when connecting to IPv6 networks. With NAT, one public IPv4 address can represent hundreds of IP nodes.

2. Check your IPv4 equipment—especially routers and switches, servers, and users' PCs and mobile devices—to identify which also support IPv6. Many Cisco products for small businesses—including the new Cisco RV110W Wireless-N VPN Firewall, a simple, affordable router with a 4-port switch—support both IPv4 and IPv6 in the form of "dual-stack" technology.

3. Audit your operating systems and applications to see which are IPv6 enabled. IPv4 email and web browsers could be fine for a while. Mobile, peer-to peer, network monitoring, and video applications will need IPv6 sooner.

Prepare Your Transition to IPv6

Now put your research to work: Based on business reasons, identify the portions of your company's network that will need to be upgraded or replaced to convert to IPv6, and when. To design and implement the conversions, you'll probably need significant IPv6 expertise.

4. Use dual-stack technology to combine native IPv6 and IPv4 systems on your network. Dual-stack devices can run IPv4 and IPv6 in parallel, independently, without any tunneling or translation service. This allows a gradual phase-out of IPv4. However, if you have your own Domain Name System (DNS) server, you may need to update or replace it to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 queries.

5. Apply a transition mechanism to connect through your dual-stack systems to IPv6 resources over an IPv4-only network. For example, if you move to IPv6 before your ISP does, you can use the 6to4 protocol on your router to tunnel your IPv6 traffic over the ISP's IPv4 network to a server on an IPv6 network.

6. Use translation services to connect IPv6 users who need to access IPv4 content on the Internet. Translation services include NAT64 and DNS64.

7. Add security for IPv6. The processing and configuration of IPv6 initially presents compatibility issues and security risks that must be addressed by software and configuration updates. Vulnerable areas include access control lists (ACLs), MAC addresses, routing headers, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and buffer overflows.

8. Deploy incrementally and test. Initially deploy IPv6 in test environments (ideally in lab or pilot networks) that represent the devices and applications targeted for integration. Keep users informed, solicit their feedback, and analyze the operational metrics.

Prosper with Your New Technology

9. Monitor, record, and communicate the process and effects of your company's IPv6 transition. The paybacks of native IPv6 can be huge—especially in business innovations related to mobility, streaming applications, and productivity.

When will your business begin getting IPv6 ready?

IPv6 will affect DNS servers, routing, switching, security, and user access. A transition could take a few months or years, depending how aggressively your company and ISP move.

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