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Why solution providers should prepare for the IPv6 transition

When IPv6 first debuted, it was slow to catch on as it was complex and unwieldy. Now, as IP addresses are being consumed under IPv4, IPv6 is starting to pick up speed. Find out why solution providers should prepare for the IPv6 transition, from security to communicating with global markets.

Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers will learn about the growing need for IPv6 and why they should prepare for IPv6 transition as it becomes the dominant IP standard.

When IPv6 was first released, I wanted to deploy the protocol and see how it worked. Microsoft had just released Windows 2000, which was the first version of Windows to support the protocol. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any sort of documentation on IPv6 and I couldn't find any networking hardware that was IPv6-aware. I kept watching for IPv6 to become "the next big thing" -- but it just never happened.

Up until now, it seemed as though the world was taking an "if we ignore it, it will go away" stance toward IPv6, and I really can't say I blame them. IPv6 is complex, convoluted and looks and feels nothing like the IPv4 protocol that we have all gotten so used to.

So if learning IPv6 is such a pain, why bother? Why not stick to IPv4? To date, there have been two main arguments in favor of an IPv6 transition -- a shortage of IPv4 addresses and IPv4's lack of security.

Let's address the security issue first. It's true that IPv4 is inherently insecure. There are a number of other protocols that have been developed to ride on top of IPv4 that are secure, but there is nothing secure about IPv4. There is little doubt in my mind that an IPv6 transition would improve security. But in my mind, the security issue is of minor concern -- security can be implemented through higher-level protocols such as IPSec.

The real reason for an IPv6 transition is the shortage of IP addresses. About seven or eight years ago, with more and more Americans connecting to the Internet, the shortage of IP addresses was becoming a serious problem. Eventually, Network Address Translation (NAT) was introduced as a way to compensate for the shortage of routable IP addresses. Once NAT started being used on a widespread basis, the address shortage seemed to magically go away.

In reality, NAT only slowed down IP address consumption -- we will still eventually run out of addresses. In fact, Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) released a 2004 study projecting that we would run out of IP addresses in five to 10 years. That was roughly five years ago, and we haven't run out of IP addresses yet, but I think things are headed that way.

Today, almost everyone uses a Windows mobile device, Blackberry or some type of smart phone. Each of these devices uses an IP address. These devices were fairly rare five years ago, but today they are everywhere, consuming more addresses.

More than anything else, I think China is going to drive the switch to IPv6. I have heard estimates from various sources that China only has about 2% of the total number of IP addresses on the planet. As of a few years ago, China had been allocated about 48 million addresses. While it's not a large percentage of China's more than 1 billion people, not all Chinese are on the Internet. But everyone wants to do business with China, thus increasing the number of users and IP addresses in China. China isn't going to have a choice but to adopt IPv6.

The U.S. government is also making the move to IPv6 to take advantage of the higher security. Eventually, I think most companies will do the same to make it possible to communicate with China, the government and others who have adopted IPv6 without having to depend on encapsulation.

Encapsulation bridges the gap between IPv6 and IPv4. Because IPv6 packets may need to move through devices that do not support IPv6, IPv6 packets can be encapsulated inside of IPv4 packets. One of the best known encapsulation methods is Microsoft's Teredo. But time spent on encapsulation is time spent not doing something that your customers might deem more efficient.

Because of the way that the world is becoming more interconnected, it is a matter of when, not if, IPv6 will become the dominant IP standard. I also think that this is going to happen more quickly than most people think, so it may be advantageous to start preparing for the IPv6 transition now. Specifically, I think it makes sense for solution providers to start making sure that all of the network hardware they carry supports IPv6, and start trying to phase out any existing hardware inventory that only supports IPv4.

At the present time, there is no mandate requiring your customers to make the switch to IPv6 (unless they happen to work for certain U.S. government agencies). Even so, I recommend making an effort to educate your customers about the benefits of IPv6 and about why the world is eventually going to adopt this new standard. Your customers are bound to appreciate the fact that you are selling them IPv6-capable hardware, and not IPv4-only hardware that may soon be obsolete.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at

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