The IANA's IPv4 depletion, which occurred in February this year, prompted many IT engineers to attend the Interop Las Vegas 2011 session, "How do we finally get to IPv6?" Panelists and moderator John Curran gave session attendees advice on how to prepare for the next-generation Internet Protocol.
Move to IPv6: Why now?
"This is not a normal technology transition," Curran said. While a company can decide when to move to IPv6, it cannot do it on its own IPv6 timeline, he said. Enterprises must prepare for IPv6 now, because in the next few years broadband customers will only have IPv6 connectivity—and if your sites run only on IPv4, they won't be able to access your content. IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4. People who want new customers or to grow their networks will need an IPv6 transition.
"Even though you might already have the addresses you need with IPv4, this is a case where the Internet is changing, and if you want to stay connected to the Internet, you have to change with it. A lot of organizations don't realize that this isn't a case where if they don't do anything everything's fine; this is a case where they actively have to get involved if they want to have the same type of Internet connectivity that they have today, " Curran said.
During the Interop 2011 session, one network and systems engineer with a government organization, who asked not to be identified, said he had old routers that would not be able to support IPv6 and that it was time to replace them with something IPv6 capable.
Why the move to IPv6 is so difficult
The switch is also complicated by not having a set deadline, like Y2K had—so service providers, equipment vendors and enterprises are all transitioning at different times. Various Regional Internet Registries and ISPs are running out of IPv4 addresses at different times; enterprises of different sizes and outreach have different requirements. Also, some manufacturers have been quicker than others in providing IPv6-enabled equipment.
"There are at least two different organizations creating certification equipment for IPv6—[USGv6 and the IPv6 Ready Logo Program]. For some organizations, one or the other might be the profile of what you need your equipment to be," Curran said.
How to move to IPv6
While updating old hardware and operating systems are an essential part of any good IPv6 migration strategy, Curran recommends taking these steps:
Step 1: Understand what you have externally facing the Internet: "The first step is to build an inventory: Know what you have that's outside, facing the public Internet… because the public Internet is going to IPv6," Curran said.
This means checking your external-facing servers, mail servers, websites, VPN equipment and anything else that your organization might connect to the public-facing Internet.
Step 2: Build staff familiarity with the protocol and get IPv6 training: Curran recommends getting your staff familiar with IPv6 by doing the lab work yourself and building IPv6 internal knowledge that way. He mentioned several reliable online sites that can help organizations get IPv6 explained for free, including ARIN's wiki and SearchEnterpriseWAN.com's IPv6 tutorial.
Step 3: Get a service provider to help you figure out how to move to IPv6: "Once you build some staff familiarity with IPv6, [you need to] call your ISP, because enterprises will have to work with Internet service providers to make IPv6 enabled," Curran said.
The easiest way to determine whether your provider can meet your IPv6 migration needs is to get your provider on the phone.
"Talk to them and say, 'I need to have IPv6 turned on [for] my existing Internet connection, and have a technical staff member who can work with the ISP to do both ends of the configuration,' because the equipment at the end of the ISP has to be configured as well as the equipment on your site," Curran said.
Want more advice? View these 5 steps to overcome IPv6 planning pitfalls, by Irwin Lazar, Nemertes Research vice president.