There’s a lot of news about IPv6 these days, even in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. That may come as a surprise if you haven’t being paying attention to the Service Provider market or recent US Federal regulations or European Union recommendations. What’s going on?
Well, the public Internet is going to run out of IP addresses. Predictions as to when that will happen vary but it could be as soon as 2011 for prefixes from IANA. But when it does, the Internet is going to keep working – it’s not going to grind to a halt. However, expansion – new devices, new people, new places, new applications – is another matter. And there’s where IPv6 comes in. The massive address space offered by IPv6 offers an almost unlimited capacity for growth, so, after a long time in the lab/trial phase, it looks like IPv6 is finally going mainstream.
That’s an easy statement to make. But is there any evidence? And does it matter for an Enterprise network?
I was lucky enough to attend Cisco Live in Barcelona. There were 13 sessions dedicated to IPv6, all well attended, IPv6 content was included in many other sessions, and we had IPv6 connectivity at the event – offered by BT – and IPv6 phones. Cisco’s Shannon McFarland’s gave an Enterprise-focused session on the last slot of the last day and attracted several hundred attendees. An unofficial show-of-hand poll suggested that approximately 25% were already running or experimenting with IPv6. We also had a great panel with friends from Google, Microsoft, and Strato who shared their own deployment experiences.
I learnt some interesting lessons at the show.
- First, and most intriguingly, IPv6 presents an opportunity for Enterprise IT managers. There are problems that are simpler to solve with IPv6 – think of using IPv6 to free up internal IPv4 addresses for public-facing servers in a data center instead of continuing with subnet calisthenics; using IPv6 auto-configuration to bring up networks at temporary project sites; or being able to avoid the complexity and cost of dealing with NAT.
- Second, think of transitioning in terms of IPv4 to IPv4/IPv6 co-existence, not IPv6 only. Dual stack is a great transition mechanism for an Enterprise.
- Third, assessments, planning and training are really important for success. Lack of preparation will make what should be a gradual – even very gradual – transition process into a sudden, painful, costly event.
- Finally, start small and start now with a trial or alpha deployment and build from there. If nothing else, just to familiarize yourself with running a multi-protocol network again before having to do so at scale. Then you can find your own golden nuggets in IPv6 that can make your life simpler and approach the transition to IPv6 as an opportunity, not just a maintenance operation.