IPv6: Heard of it? You Will...

September 4th, 2015 by admin

Inside view of a round, white tunnel with black numerals 0 through 9

In our ever-expanding universe of high-tech acronyms, perhaps one you've recently heard is IPv6. What exactly is it? Why do some IT people embrace it as the foundation of a "new Internet," while the mere mention of it gives others an instant headache?

First, think back to the "good old days" decades ago here in California, when the DMV issued license plates with three numbers and three letters ("SAM 123"). There were always plenty of number combinations available… until there were so many new cars clogging our freeways that the state began running out of numbers and added an extra digit.

Then

Similarly, what would become the "World Wide Web" was designed around every computer's own virtual "license plate"—an individual IP address which enables it to talk with other computers. The original number of IP address combinations available—about 4.3 billion—was plenty for the computers of government facilities and college campuses, and then businesses and homes. But with the rise of mobile devices and online connectivity in everything from stoplights to air conditioners, the number of Internet-connected devices around the world now exceeds the number of humans alive! The Internet was running out of addresses, and change was inevitable.

Now

This led to the development of IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). Officially deployed in June 2012, it's intended to replace (eventually) the current protocol—the numerically obsolete IPv4.

The biggest difference with IPv6 is every new device is now assigned a longer, heavily encoded 128-bit IP address, compared to the 32-bit addresses of IPv4.

The result? Enough unique IP addresses (340 undecillion, or "trillion trillion trillion"), to last far beyond the needs of our great-grandkids' grandkids.

In the meantime, our generation's migration to IPv6 hasn't been without growing pains. An IPv4 infrastructure is not inherently interoperable with IPv6. While newer hardware can be expected to be IPv6-compatible, older, IPv4-based equipment—routers, switches, security devices, printers, photocopiers, and more—may retain limited functionality or expose glaring security flaws requiring hefty upgrades. Despite promises of faster traffic and stronger security, some IT managers actually prefer to "remain in the past" by manually disabling IPv6 on their networks—even though Cisco and Microsoft strongly advise against it.

The most common solution for a smooth IPv6 transition is a dual stack protocol, where local servers and routers operate in both IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneously. This ensures a hassle-free maximum lifespan for any piece of hardware. As the number of 32-bit addresses continues to rapidly dwindle away, we may see the day when the remaining IPv4 internetworking is officially shut off forever. It's never too early to plan ahead.

How "future-proof" is your company's network against IPv6 and other changes on the horizon? Contact us for a complimentary assessment.

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