Enterprises have been eking out their dependence on IPv4, the current generation internet protocol (IP), despite internet address limitations becoming more apparent. Given that the new generation protocol, IPv6, has been waiting in the wings for over 20 years, companies clearly consider migration to be complex, writes Srini Avirneni, Vice President DDI Engineering, NS1. There are two reasons for this – cost and potential disruption.
Daunting as it might be, as 5G, cloud adoption, and the number of connected, addressable devices continue to increase at pace, now is the optimum moment to take action and adopt IPv6. According to Gartner, 91% of organisations are engaged in some form of digital initiative, and while this might range from optimisation through to full digital transformation, upgrading to the new internet protocol should be considered an essential element in that transformation effort.
We are living in a world in which internet traffic is highly distributed, pumping through data centres and networks and flowing through the edges to enable people to access applications and online services wherever and however they want. This distributed environment is subject to latency, and organisations must consider the negative impact of this if they are to continue to ensure their edge enables employees and customers to connect to applications.
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The starting point of an IPv6 deployment is identifying the goals for the future – are they planning to add new locations, move to the cloud, or deploy multiple IoT devices? Without the required address space this will increasingly be a problem. The longer an enterprise waits before migrating to IPv6, the more likely they are to start overlapping address spaces in different regions, which adds to the complexity of managing infrastructure and impacts on the provisioning of devices and applications.
Preparation is vital. In the many organisations that have already deployed IPv6 in some form, the road to success has come from network teams defining a plan and allocating the hierarchical address structure for each part of the network, taking in regions, data centres, and servers. Enterprises must consider the apps they want to support and how they can define the address space to make good use of routing and policy definitions. If the goal is to scale, IPv6 will simplify routing and make the process markedly easier.
Another consideration is who in the organisation is assigned to manage and implement IPv6. The initiative needs championing from the top, by the office of the CTO, or the CIO. It should be firmly incorporated as part of the digital transformation vision, and then filtered down through the IT, network, security, and operations teams. In order to ensure addressing mechanisms are understood, it might be necessary to bring in specialist expertise.
Using the right tools
With the plan in place, the next stage is implementation, and this is where foundational technologies like DNS, DHCP and IP Address Management (DDI) have an important part to play in abstracting complexity and simplifying addressing. With its roots in connecting hostnames with the correct IP addresses, DNS has long been significant for internet usability and as a means of administering DNS records, IPAM becomes critical for migration to IPv6. While hostnames will remain the same, websites will be transitioning to the new protocol and IPAM will mediate that process, tracking and managing address space and creating a seamless bridge from IPv4.
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Enterprises could go one step further and combine a move to IPv6 with the use of next generation or software-defined DDI, which would provide them with even greater performance, automation capabilities, and advanced traffic management features, including propagation of DNS changes in milliseconds and improved, optimal routing. Software defined DDI also has the advantage of supporting cloud-native infrastructure that will allow apps to be deployed as closely as possible to the user and will support microservice environments.
While DDI enables the discovery of connected devices and managing addressing needs, other tools can also be useful for IPv6 implementation. Network management tools that determine the compatibility, not just of applications but operating systems, firmwares and/or custom software modules with a network stack, automation and orchestration tools, will be essential in minimising infrastructure migration challenges. When it comes to security, the traditional concerns have focused on servers enabling IPv6 by default while firewalls did not, and tools that can configure firewalls and monitor security logs are important to have in place.
Because of the complexities, organisations tend to kick the can down the road to deal with later when it comes to migrating to IPv6, too often ignoring it on the basis that they don’t consider additional address space as a compelling argument for change. But we are emerging from a pandemic, and companies are seeking opportunities to be more agile and to keep their employees and customers reliably connected, and IPv6 will enable that long into the future. IPv6 is a juggernaut that will shape the future of the internet, so if businesses want to achieve their digital ambitions, it’s time to equip themselves with a plan, the right tools, and then climb onboard.