The world officially 'ran out' of IPv4 internet addresses in February 2011, pushing us willy-nilly into the brave new world of IPv6. Taking the place of the old protocol, IPv6 offers various advantages over its predecessor. The expanded addressing capacity of IPv6 will provide about 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses in contrast to that of IPv4 - a mere 4 billion. The apparent inexhaustibility of the number of IPv6 addresses can be inferred from the quote by Steven Leibson, "we could assign an IPv6 address to EVERY ATOM ON THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths!"
IPv6 will eliminate the need for Network Address Translation (NAT) devices and thereby the capital and operating costs associated with its deployment and maintenance. The protocol also delivers much needed benefits on the security front. The IP Security protocol suite has been built into the IPv6 architecture making way for an intrinsic security mechanism with IPv6 implementation. IPv6 not only gives better QoS than IPv4, but its extensible header structure allows provisioning for new features.
So..... where's the catch? Ah, you knew there was one, didn't you?
Well, for any enterprise, transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 will not be a simple activity. The migration will require a change not only in the network infrastructure but in the complete ecosystem, hardware as well as software, from applications, firewalls and modems to servers and data centers. There will also be challenges associated with new technology adoption, such as issues related to interoperability, scalability, performance, integration and security. IPv6's many new capabilities means that it is not backward compatible with IPv4, which further complicates the issue.
This implies that enterprises will have to adopt a phased approach and IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist till the entire ecosystem has been successfully transitioned and tested. An integrated and coherent strategy will have to be planned for dual protocol access and to ensure continuity of business critical services. Further, there will be technology, operational and cost overheads that the organizations need to provision for.
This is certainly not a job for the fainthearted. IPv4 to IPv6 transition is beset with a multitude of technical and operational decisions and challenges. I think it would be foolish for an enterprise to embark on this on its own without the required expertise, as this would have huge impact on cost and resources, infrastructure and personnel.
Bringing in an expert partner would therefore help the enterprise avoid the common pitfalls and effect a smooth transition. The partner can be involved with one or all the phases of the IPv6 implementation/ migration. With the partner's help, the enterprise can ensure that design and build do not become prohibitively expensive and IPv6 migration is achieved with minimal impact. So, what's your strategy for the IPv6 transition?