The Essentials Series: Migrating to IPv6

by Dan Sullivan


The core protocol of the Internet, IP, is succumbing to the strains of its own success. The commonly used IPv4 protocol is rapidly running out of addresses and stop gap solutions, such as network address translation, are insufficient long term solutions. Business can delay but not avoid the transition to implementing the IPv6 protocol. This Essential Series, authored by IT expert Dan Sullivan, outlines the fundamentals of IPv6, describes migration strategies and discusses management challenges and solutions for migrating to IPv6 networks.


Article 1: Fundamentals of IPv6

The Internet has become a victim of its own success. This generalized, open approach for reliably transmitting large volumes of data across a widely distributed network of devices readily lends itself to a wide range of applications. From high-value business transactions to the latest viral video, the Internet protocols continue to be used for increasingly diverse applications. When the Internet began in the early days of the Arpanet, only government and research computers were linked over the network. Today, business servers, home appliances, and mobile phones are connected to the Internet—and more devices are on the way. The demand to connect more devices to the Internet has presented a fundamental problem to network designers.

Article 2: Strategies for Migrating to IPv6

The growing demand for Internet addresses has prompted the development of a new protocol. For years, the Internet protocol known as IPv4 was sufficient for existing demand, but over the past two decades, it became clear the number of possible IPv4 addresses would eventually fail to meet demand. Realizing this, engineers and network designers established a new version of the IP protocol called IPv6. As the previous article outlined, the new IP protocol has a vastly larger number of potential addresses and adds required security features. The value of IPv6 and its benefits relative to IPv4 are not in question here; they are obvious. This article starts with the importance of migrating to IPv6 and asks the question, How should organizations move from IPv4 to IPv6 without disrupting their operations?

Very few organizations are in a position to make a wholesale change from IPv4 to IPv6 overnight. We have substantial network infrastructures designed for routing IPv4 traffic, applications that make assumptions about the underlying Internet protocol, and policies and procedures for managing IPv4 addresses within the organization. Making a "big bang" adoption of IPv6, in which there is a wholesale move from one platform to another, is fraught with risks. How sure are you that you have assessed all applications and how they will function with IPv6? Have you planned for and updated every piece of network infrastructure? Have you tested every client device with the new protocol?

Positing questions like these can make you wonder why anyone would ever try a big bang adoption with such a fundamental change. Big bang adoptions have significant risks when attempted with higher-level applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems; it is hard to overestimate the risks of taking such an approach at the network level. As a result, most of us will be living in a hybrid networking world while we make the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

Article 3: Managing IPv6: Challenges and Solutions

The migration from IPv4 to IPv6 will take time and resources. Network devices will be upgraded and reconfigured, applications will be changed to support the new protocol, and client devices will be upgraded. While all this is going on, business operations will have to continue without disruption. Executives and managers will rightly ask, Is this all necessary? If so, how do we minimize the cost and the risk of the migration? This article highlights management challenges faced during the migration to IPv6 and their solutions:

  • Making the business case for migrating to IPv6
  • Planning the migration to IPv6
  • Establishing the importance of network monitoring
  • Determining security considerations of migrating from IPv4 to IPv6

Let's begin with the justification for migrating to IPv6.