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IP management and the future of BYOD, Top tips on IPv6 for businesses

Axel Pawlik, Managing Director, RIPE NCC explains how to make sure your business is ready for IPv6:

Making sure your business is connected to the whole Internet

Businesses today depend on the Internet. Whether it’s for advertising or websites, managing suppliers or communicating with customers, it’s inevitable that somewhere along the line there is a stakeholder using the Internet. But what if your business was walled-off from a section of Internet users, websites and services that is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years – would you even know?

The issue here is addressing. Any device that connects to the Internet needs an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a unique identifier. Everything from your laptop to smartphone uses an IP address to send and receive packets of data via the Internet. The demand for IP addresses is skyrocketing, mainly because of the massive proliferation of online devices. The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is seeing more and more employees take their devices to work, and millions of additional users are coming online around the world as the Internet grows,. This is causing problems both for businesses and for entire regions. 

What are IPv4 and IPv6, and why do they matter?

The Internet today runs on IPv4 – version four of the IP address standard. When it was first conceived, the 4.3 billion addresses it allowed for seemed more than enough for what at the time were a few fledgling networks. However, the Internet has grown dramatically since then and is quickly running out of IPv4 addresses. In fact, IPv4 exhaustion has already been reached in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia. The RIPE NCC received its final block of 16 million IP addresses (called a /8) in September 2012 – to put that into context, analyst house Gartner estimated 1.75 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide in 2012.

Thankfully, there’s IPv6, a replacement protocol which provides trillions upon trillions of addresses – enough to ensure the future growth of the Internet. The only issue is that IPv6 and IPv4 are not compatible, so people need to ‘dual-stack’ (the technical term for running both IP standards side-by-side). Without dual-stacking, businesses running only IPv4 equipment can’t communicate with anyone using only IPv6, essentially making them invisible to those people.

This might not be a major issue today, but IPv4 address exhaustion is expected to act as a catalyst for widespread IPv6 adoption over the coming years. A little time spent getting IPv6 ready now will pay dividends in future, as the websites and services which run on IPv4 alone are gradually replaced by an IPv6 Internet.

Your network check

Many businesses operate their own network and the extent to which a network needs to be upgraded to IPv6 will depend on its specific setup. To ensure your business is not adversely affected by the lack of available IPv4 addresses and can connect to IPv6 users, you should start by making sure you have the answers to these questions:

  • Are you and your IT staff aware of IPv6?
  • Is your Internet Service Provider ready to provide IPv6 connectivity?
  • Is your own network equipment IPv6 compatible; if not, what steps are necessary to make it IPv6 compatible?
  • Have you considered IPv6-readiness in your technology upgrade cycle?

Based on the answers to these questions, you will be able to plan the steps needed to ensure that IPv6 adoption doesn’t see your business left behind. 

Where are you now?

The first step is to assess where you are in relation to IPv6. If your business uses an Internet Service Provider (ISP), they may already offer IPv6 connectivity. That means you may already be operating hardware and software that is compatible, and deploying IPv6 could be as simple as flipping a switch. But you won’t know until you research it.

The following checklist is a guide to the basic steps and questions you should ask:

  • Talk to your ISP
  • Identify the network components that will need to be changed or upgraded
  • Identify the training needs for you and your team
  • Determine costs of new hardware and software
  • Select suppliers (possibly the same as you have today) and consultants
  • Draft a project plan and begin implementation

How ready is your Internet service provider?

Most businesses rely on an ISP for their connection to the Internet. Your own network’s IPv6 requirements and deployment schedule will depend upon your provider’s IPv6 readiness, so it is important that you understand what your ISP can provide and when.

Some questions that you might ask your service provider:

  • Do you currently provide IPv6 connectivity?
  • If not, when do you plan to deploy IPv6 on your customer networks? What is your timeline?
  • When will our website be available over IPv6?
  • Do you provide customers with IPv6-compatible modems, or other devices necessary for connecting over IPv6?

Once you have agreed a plan of action with your ISP, these are a few of the things you need to consider:

Physical Technology

The first step is to identify which pieces of equipment (routers, servers and other hardware) need upgrading or even replacing. Your hardware vendor(s) should be able to help you with this process, and advise you on how to make the necessary changes. It may require some time and effort to convert all elements of your IT infrastructure, so you may want to consider doing it in stages.

Software Compatibility

A great deal of software already on the market is IPv6-ready by default. But if you have purchased software from a third party, you’ll want to get in touch with the provider to check if the product is already IPv6 compatible or if there’s an upgrade available.

If no IPv6 upgrade is available, you’ll need to look for an alternative software source. Any software that you have developed in-house may have to be rewritten.

  • Posted on: 14th February 2013 at 12:00am
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