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Analyzing changes in IPv6 vs. IPv4 for data center networks

A new network protocol isn't just about the network infrastructure and routers. Understanding IPv6 versus IPv4 or going to a dual-stack network poses issues for marketing, application support, monitoring and your internal IT staff. Are you ready?

The Internet protocol IPv4 is in phase three of its countdown,

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according to ARIN, which organizes Internet number resources. As of August 2013, there were two /8 equivalents of IPv4 space remaining, or about 2x16.8M IP addresses.

IPv6 is next, and implementations will affect everyone from service providers to enterprises to residential users. While technical side effects are considerations, it's important to remember that conventional business processes have been optimized for IPv4 networks. Using IPv6 versus IPv4 will affect your business today and in the future.

CIOs should consider these scenarios when rolling out IPv6 into enterprise environments.

Remote access

With IPv6, remote access is global. Given the APNIC and RIPE Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) are running out, IPv6 deployments are catching on. In North America, Internet service providers are leading the charge; more IPv6-capable devices are hitting the market and residential networks are leveraging this technology. Your organization's endpoints may be dual stacked, even if your internal applications are not.

Poll your users to see where and how they use IPv6 today -- a simple survey that recognizes their incoming IP address should do the trick. You should know how people access your infrastructure and how remote applications use IPv6. This will probably vary across geographic areas, but it should give you a general sense of how IPv6 deployment trends are affecting your own network realities.

Dual-stack environments create some interesting control options with remote access. For example, when controlling server access, an IPv4 static address is a premium feature in a residential environment; running an IPv6 tunnel can provide an additional layer of connectivity options. Remote firewall configurations and access control list management might change in IPv6 versus IPv4, so plan ahead.

External presence

A primer on IPv6

The business case for IPv6

Security considerations

Myths about IPv6 security

The cost factor

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You've probably already created AAAA resource records for your domain name system to ensure your public corporate presence is visible to visitors on IPv4 and IPv6 networks. How are you tracking hits to the IPv6 address?

Website analytics programs can break out IPv6 traffic, offering a window into some other business areas with regard to IPv6 accessibility as well as a global view of IPv6 access.

On our 6connect Website, IPv6 accounts for almost 10% of our site traffic overall, with a definite increase in IPv6 traffic from Asia and Europe. This mirrors the RIR announcements about IPv6 adoption accelerating in various global markets. And, yes, we have received spam from IPv6 addresses.

A whole new monitoring paradigm

Chances are your website and internal applications have performance metrics and monitoring associated with them. How do these translate into real-world experiences with the new reality of dual-stack environments? Is it as simple as page load times? How do content delivery networks with a robust IPv6 presence factor in? And how do you know when performance thresholds are met, exceeded or missed? How is the issue isolated?

First, make sure that your current user experience testing takes into account both IPv4 and IPv6 performance.

Your monitoring tools must record IPv6 services and alert you accordingly. Typical monitoring tools are built around individual host endpoints, so finding one that does this "out of the box" is a challenge. With IPv6, you may have to set up additional alert checks and workflows for every dual stacked host. IPv6 monitoring can blow your budget, since commercial solutions often use a per-IP cost structure.

A more elegant solution uses a per-monitoring-service approach: The user can be notified of issues and better understand the real problem and then route the alert accordingly. Dual-stack environments make things more interesting: It's not just about understanding the outcome of the end point, but also having the triage data for the issue on the hops between the server and the user.

As IPv6 adoption grows globally, we'll likely uncover all sorts of network issues not seen in IPv4. Such a large technology shift should always be considered in the context of your core business. Be aware of how network architectures are changing along with the impact to all your business elements -- not just the technical ones.

About the author:

Pete Sclafani is chief information officer with 6connect. Contact him at pete@6connect.com

This was first published in October 2013

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