Verizon Business has a message to companies still reluctant to migrate their networks to IPv6: You're better off doing it now than later.
William Schmidlapp, Verizon Business's product manager for Internet dedicated access services, says that the advent of 4G LTE and WiMAX-based devices will only increase the need to switch over to IPv6, since each of those devices will require its own IP address. So if any company wants to push its content out to mobile devices over the next few years, they're going to need some capability to handle IPv6 traffic.
"If every phone in China becomes a smartphone, then every phone will need an IP address," explains Waliur Rahman, Verizon's technical manager for IPv6 services. "So you're going to have to include IPv6 as part of your network architecture."
IPv6 is a next-generation Internet layer protocol that was designed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to solve the problem of IP address depletion under the current Internet layer protocol, IPv4. While IPv4 has a fixed limit of around 4 billion IP addresses, IPv6 will have exponentially more, on the magnitude of around 340 billion billion billion billion (3.4×1038). The trouble that IPv6 advocates and ISPs have run into so far, however, is that many of the ISPs' enterprise customers don't see the logic in investing time and money in IPv6 deployment during a recession where they have far more pressing and immediate needs, even though IPv4 addresses are projected to be depleted sometime within the next year.
Jason Schiller, Verizon's senior Internet network engineer, says that part of the challenge for CTOs and IT departments is understanding that upgrading to IPv6 doesn't necessarily have to be a costly process that will upend all of their current architecture. In reality, they may have to replace some of their hardware, but they can also use software upgrades to solve their IPv6 needs, especially if they're a smaller firm that doesn't handle large amounts of network traffic.
"Smaller networks that have lower throughput and traffic can be upgraded through software," he says. "I'm not saying that's going to be cheap, though. In some cases the software contract can be expensive and sometimes you'll have to upgrade your routing engine as well. And for some networks, you'll have to go through some significant testing of IPv6 in a lab to make sure it can do everything you need."
Schmidlapp says another challenge facing businesses shifting over to IPv6 is ensuring that all their back office equipment is IPv6 capable. So if a company relies on a homegrown IPv4 ordering system to track their orders that has been built specifically to their business's needs, then they may have to redesign their back-office IT to make sure it can send and receive IPv6 traffic. Schmidlapp points out that while this may sound like a real pain to implement, it doesn't mean that you need to completely redo your entire network infrastructure.
"Some people may believe they have to forklift-upgrade their entire infrastructure in order to handle the new protocol," he says. "But in reality, there may be certain segments where you don't need a native IPv6 system and you can simply do it through tunneling," the process whereby a network places IPv6 traffic inside what looks on the outside like IPv4 traffic so it can be sent over IPv4 networks. Schmidlapp says that time sensitive applicaions such as corporate email, are best served by putting them over a native IPv6 application while applications that aren't as time sensitive can be handled well over an IPv6 tunnel.
Schiller recommends that businesses that are still reluctant to invest in IPv6 migration at least dip their toes in the water to get a sense of what their future needs for IPv6 will be. This will involve studying how long until your company's own stock of IPv4 addresses gets depleted, figuring out what back office tools need to be upgraded and then testing and certifying IPv6 on the network. Schiller says that this "limited investment" will at least provide IT departments with valuable experience in making the transition, which he says will come gradually over a period of years rather than all at once. But at some point, Schmidlapp notes, businesses will have to go all in on IPv6 or risk having their communications capabilities severely limited.
"I think the transfer from IPv4 to IPv6 will be similar to the transfer from analogue to digital television," he says. "At some point the government will say they're pulling the plug on IPv4 and at that point you'll need to be IPv6 compliant."