Slowly but surely, the world is transitioning to IPv6. According to Google statistics, about 15% of global internet traffic in 2016 used the IPv6 protocol. By the end of 2017, about 20% of internet traffic should be using the new protocol, and the total will likely rise to 35% by 2019.
But most of that IPv6 traffic is not coming from the enterprise.
“I think many enterprises are still at the early stages of figuring out exactly what they want to do” with IPv6, said Ed Horley, vice president of engineering at Groupware Technology and co-chair of the California IPv6 Task Force.
He pointed out that while service providers have been forced to transition to IPv6 because they were running out of IPv4 addresses, enterprises don’t have that same pressure. “The challenge for IPv6 is that it doesn’t have a distinct financial benefit or reward” for the enterprise, Horley said.
So why should enterprises migrate? Networking expert Jeff Carrell said that he sees both an internal and an external reason to move to IPv6.
“Internally, most modern operating systems already have IPv6 running and enabled by default protocol,” Carrell explained. IT teams can run into problems if they aren’t securing and supporting the protocol that users’ operating systems are running by default.
Externally, the issue centers on the fact that much of the world, especially mobile and internet of things traffic, is running on IPv6. “More and more entities around the world can only get IPv6 connectivity, and the forward-facing content from your enterprise might be important to be available to those users,” Carrell said.
Horley said that it comes down to a simple question: “Do you only want to be on a part of the internet?” He added, “If you want to be on all of the internet, you need to have a presence or a way to interface with IPv6.”
For organizations that decide the time is right to migrate, Horley and Carrell recommended five key best practices:
1. Train everyone in IT about IPv6
“IPv6 has some foundational components that are completely different from IPv4,” Carrell said. IT needs to do its homework and learn about the new protocol and how it will affect infrastructure and applications.
Both Carrell and Horley said that IPv6 training should extend to IT staff beyond the networking team. “You should be training everyone across the board and educating them about what is going on,” Horley said.
2. Analyze your current infrastructure and applications
Enterprises will also need to assess the IPv6-readiness of their existing environment. “Look at the overall infrastructure of a network environment, not just the switches and routers and the network cards and operating systems, but everything has to be looked at to see what does support IPv6,” Carrell said. He cautioned that legacy systems and applications may not support the new protocol or support it fully.
3. Set up a test environment
Carrell also recommended that organizations build a “test lab that emulates the foundational operations of a company.” Staff can enable IPv6 in that test environment and see what happens, he said, noting that IPv6 sometimes results in unexpected problems with applications or hardware.
4. Write an IPv6 plan
Based on the information they’ve learned from their training, assessments, and testing, organizations can then plan how they want to roll out the new protocol across their environment.
Horley pointed out that this planning process can also provide a unique opportunity to reconfigure the IT environment. He said, “I think that the biggest mistake I’ve seen folks make in this early stage, when they are assessing and figuring out where they want to go, is not taking advantage of the unique opportunities that v6 provides around transforming or redesigning what you already have -- whether that’s to take advantage of net new features that IPv6 offers or it’s just an opportunity to structurally change how your network operates to better meet your business requirements.”
5. Rollout IPv6 in phases
When it comes time to roll out IPv6 in production, Carrell said enterprises should “do it in small pieces where it is a bit more manageable.” A phased rollout can make it much easier to deal with any problems that occur, he said.
Horley offered a bit of encouragement for enterprises just embarking on their IPv6 migration process: “It’s not as painful and it’s not as daunting as everyone seems to think it is."