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Making the IPv4 to IPv6 transition without changing the network

Gina Narcisi

The IPv4 to IPv6 transition may not be the next Y2K, but it will require preparation. IPv4 addresses have been exhausted, and enterprises are preparing to

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permanently enable IPv6 on their Web-facing products and services. 

June 6, 2012, marks the second World IPv6 Day in which participating websites and service providers -- including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Limelight and Akamai -- will test and enable IPv6 traffic. But enterprises vary in their ability to enable IPv6 on their networks or websites and are seeking strategies for supporting IPv6 without disruption or changes to their existing network infrastructure. 

IPv4 to IPv6 transition: Dual stack is an option

Not all enterprises have the luxury to change their network or rewrite applications for enabling IPv6 connectivity across their websites. Having IPv4 and IPv6 traffic run in tandem is one way enterprises are preparing for the IPv4 to IPv6 transition.

By now most enterprise IPv4 networks are built with equipment that is capable of supporting IPv6. This will be especially helpful as the enterprise won't have to purchase new equipment when IPv6 becomes prevalent, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group.

"The [IPv4 to IPv6] switch is not necessarily an all or nothing thing," Laliberte said. "Enterprises can either support IPv6 and IPv4 on a dual stack, tunnel the new traffic, or implement network address translation [NAT] to convert IPv4 to IPv6."

IPv4 to IPv6 transition: Network address translation

Application delivery vendors have anticipated the IPv4 to IPv6 transition pains and have begun to offer products to enable IPv6 traffic quickly without major network disturbance. Citrix believes that NAT technology plays into the enterprise need to support IPv4 and IPv6 addresses across all devices, noted Greg Smith, senior director of marketing at Citrix Systems Inc.

"It's not an option for enterprises to rewrite all applications -- which can be in the hundreds -- to natively support IPv6," Smith said. "[Enterprises] are relying on automatic address translation so they can communicate with any user using IPv6 by translating IPv4."

Application delivery controllers offer translation that is transparent to the user, without the overhead costs associated with redesigning corporate networks or websites, Smith noted. 

But NAT has its limits. Enterprises should focus on gradual transition, rather than NAT, since not all enterprise applications can be translated, said Scott Hogg, chairman of the Rocky Mountain IPv6 Task Force.

"Network address translation breaks apart applications and makes application service much more challenged," said Qing Li, chief scientist at Blue Coat Systems Inc., noting that a better user experience will come from reissuing requests in IPv6 at the session level, rather than translating at the packet level.

"Translation is a last resort transition technique -- it would be better if the enterprise enabled IPv6 in a dual protocol," Hogg added.

"Enterprises can enable IPv6 without changing their network by layering the protocol onto their existing infrastructure as long as their equipment supports it, and most vendors have at least basic IPv6 support today," he said.

More on World IPv6 Day:

Q&A: What World IPv6 Day is all about

The difference between World IPv6 Day 2011 and 2012

WAN managers discuss IPv6 migration strategies

IPv4 to IPv6 transition: Enterprises need gradual migration

Enabling IPv6 on a corporate network is not without security risks and accessibility concerns, Li said.

The key issue is securing the network. Blue Coat's PacketShaper software line offers network visibility for enterprise IT -- a first step toward IPv6 migration, Li noted. "Enterprises must analyze their network in-depth and become aware of security challenges in order to avoid their infrastructure being compromised."

Gaining network visibility and enabling IPv6 while avoiding security implications does not happen overnight. World IPv6 Day 2012 does not signify a hard date for an IPv4 to IPv6 transition. While enterprises must look ahead to enabling IPv6 in order to avoid access or latency issues, IPv4 support must continue for now.

"Enterprises, as well as service providers, will have to be able to run IPv6 in parallel with IPv4," Laliberte said.

IPv4 content primarily dominates the Internet today, but after World IPv6 day this year there will be more IPv6 content launched, Hogg noted. Also, the number of individuals who connect to the Internet via IPv6 is growing.

"If enterprises don't prepare, users could have trouble reaching their favorite website after June 6, 2012, and that's a problem," he said, noting that World IPv6 Day should pave the way for enterprises making the transition and jumpstart IPv6 deployment worldwide.

World IPv6 Launch Day further reading:

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.


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