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How (and why) to migrate your business to IPv6

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IPv4 was the first internet protocol to be widely deployed. However, its (roughly) 4,200,000,000 unique addresses, which 30 years ago was assumed would cover any possible eventuality, are now running out.

This is why IPv6 was introduced in 1996 (IPv5 was an experiment). The technical specification of IPv6 provided a massive increase in the number of addresses available due to IPv6 moving to a 128-bit addressing system. This change from a 32-bit system means that IPv6 addresses look very different. 

The format is 2001:cdba:0000:0000:0000:0000:3257:9652, although sometimes parts of an address that contain all zeros are omitted to save space, leaving a colon separator to mark the gap, as in 2001:cdba::3257:9652.

IPv6 was designed to support a mass adoption of IPv6-enabled devices from household appliances to cars (the “Internet of Things”) and in total it provides roughly 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 unique addresses. To put this into perspective, that’s 480,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IPv6 addresses for each of the world’s seven billion inhabitants.

I already have an IPv4 address, why should I need to change?

Over the next five or so years you will need to make the transition to IPv6, otherwise there will be some parts of the internet that you simply can’t access. In addition you won’t be able to take advantage of the potential new services, such as IPTV and true IP address portability between ISPs, which IPv6 will deliver.

Below are three specific reasons why you should be looking at IPv6 now:

1. Prevent increased costs 

Businesses will be spending more over the next five years to cope with the scarcity of IPv4 address space. There will be costs in purchasing more networking equipment to allow you to continue using IPv4, finding workarounds, or even buying more IPv4 addresses on the secondary market that is expected to emerge.

2. Global business growth 

Some parts of the world have been out of IPv4 addresses for a while. China, for instance, has been predominately IPv6 for a few years now and the use of IPv6 will soon be a requirement for any businesses looking to deploy services into this country.

3. Your competitors are doing it 

Already ISPs in 22 countries and more than 2,000 websites, including four of the top five rated websites (Google.com, Facebook.com, Yahoo.com and YouTube.com) have already enabled IPv6 and are now running it in parallel with existing IPv4. As more websites follow and ISPs move more of their users over to IPv6 this will result in a significant increase in internet traffic using IPv6.

How does a business make the change to IPv6?

For businesses just using the internet for research or emails they won’t need to do a thing. ISPs will handle the transition to IPv6 via one of the methods for running IPv4 and IPv6 in parallel, so provided you use domain names most of the time you won’t even notice that you’re now visiting a website using an IPv6 address.

If you run a larger network then IPv6 deployment is a bit more complex and you should make sure your engineers fully understand the complications of IPv6. Check if your internet connection is enabled for IPv6. This site is especially helpful because it will tell you how prepared an ISP is for IPv6.

Another excellent resource for checking whether you can reach IPv6-enabled sites from your business network is the OpenDNS sandbox. If you aren’t ready to convert your entire network to IPv6 just yet, then you can set up an account with an IPv6 tunnelling provider (some ISPs do all this for you anyway) and then use OpenDNS sandbox to check that you are using IPv6.

Other things you’ll need to check when dealing with an IPv6 deployment in-house are:

Office routers and firewalls

The majority of dedicated office firewalls have only recently added IPv6 support, so if yours is a few years old it may need upgrading or replacing.

DNS

A lot of companies will deploy IPv6 on their networks but not update DNS ‘AAAA’ records to point their domain names (e.g. realbusiness.co.uk) to their new IPv6 addresses. Without this, anyone using IPv6 would need to know your IPv6 address to access your site rather than just using a domain name.

Security 

IPv6 security isn’t that complicated but it needs to be taken into account and tested. Access lists, same as for IPv4, should be set up on your firewalls to prevent unauthorised access and firewall rules should be tested on IPv6 because there have been cases of IPv6 firewall rules simply not working without a firmware upgrade.

David Barker is technical director and founder of the green colocation and connectivity supplier 4D Data Centres.

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