IPv6 has been implemented on the Internet since 1999, but it's still called the new Internet protocol because it's not widely deployed. How different is IPv6 from IPv4? It’s based on a colon-hexadecimal system, compared to IPv4 being dotted-decimal. It’s also comprised of a 128-bit number vs. IPv4's 32 bits. It has no broadcast-type message; those messages you know as broadcast in IPv4 are now link-local multicast. IPv6 also has a few other operational differences from IPv4.
Some technologists may believe you can simply "turn on" IPv6 and everything will be alright. Generally, that's not case. You may not break your network, but there's a really good chance some things will not work as they did before, or they'll work different (generally slower) and therefore the experience will not be good for everybody.
As professionals, we try hard to keep our networks running smooth, as they are often the lifeblood of the company. So you would never (or try to never) implement a new application or piece of core hardware without research, testing, learning, and most importantly, finding out how your system may react when turning on that new widget.
IPv6 is the same. It requires study, working in the lab, running it with all your hardware, operating systems, and applications, and testing it as thoroughly as possible to discover not only how it works, but how it will work in your system.
One of the biggest challenges of IPv6 deployment is the learning aspect. It requires either a lab with equipment or a virtual environment, and in either case, you still need a system that is as close to yours as possible.
Oh yes, it also requires time and initiative. Many companies may not even have a plan for IPv6 implementation, but when it comes time (and the time is coming), the schedule may be more compressed than you'd prefer (you know the drill -- the boss comes to you on Friday and says, “Turn it on by Monday”). So, you may need to start the learning process on your own, possibly without any company support of resources, expenses, and time. Therefore, you should start now, on your own, and potentially with very little monetary investment.
Image: Thierry Ehrmann
Going the lab route is certainly the best approach, but costly. A virtual platform is less expensive to build up. You need a virtual platform, possibly multiple network segments (internal and external), a router that has IPv6 capability, client OSs, and for the best learning platform, a real live IPv6 connection to the Internet, which can be the most challenging to obtain.
There are a couple of providers of free or very-low-cost IPv6-in-IPv4-tunnels that can provide not only IPv6 connectivity to the Internet, but they will also provide an IPv6 address block so you can configure your own IPv6-routed networks in your lab. So not only can you learn about IPv6, but you can actually test live on the Internet!
Although building an IPv6 lab system isn’t hard, it’s not necessarily easy. Finding the right combination of key components will take a bit of research, but that’s also part of the learning process. For the most part, all the hard work has been done as many technologists have shared their research and findings, which makes it much easier for everyone. For example, I created an IPv6 Essential Cheat Sheet and published a lab system diagram that I hope you can find useful.
Don't miss Jeff Carrell's live session, Building Your Own IPv6 Lab at Interop Las Vegas. He will discuss IPv6 basics and the specific system he's used for a couple of years to not only learn about IPv6, but also for demonstrations and hands-on lab workshops. Register now for Interop, April 27 to May 1, and receive $200 off.