Every device that connects to the Internet needs an IP address. That being said, IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) has typically been able to provide users’ devices with said address. IPv4 was developed to allow approximately 4.3 billion addresses. While this number once seemed infinite, the growing number of Internet accessible devices is starting to prove too much for the protocol. As such, IPv4 is starting to run out of space. In addition to this, as more and more Internet accessible devices pop-up, the digital environment is changing. As a result, many users have begun to migrate to IPv6.
Simply put, IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is the next generation of IPv4 as it includes a number of expanded capabilities—i.e. connective integrity, unconstrained address abundance, platform for innovation and collaboration, integrated mobility and interoperability, etc. As such, many welcome the migration to IPv6. While this transition is unavoidable, there are some factors users should consider before migrating to IPv6.
IPv6 Availability: The first thing users should do is determine if their current ISP (Internet Service Provider) offers IPv6. As such, there are a number of ways to do this. First off, users can email their current providers directly. While this is direct, an easier way is to test your IPv6 connectivity. This provides users with detailed network information including: their public address, current ISP, if IPv6 is currently detectable, if current configuration would allow for IPv6, if current connection allows users to connect to both IPv4 and IPv6 sites, and the reason why one can or cannot connect to IPv6 page (i.e. server, configuration, etc.).
Migration Plan: Planning ahead is important, and if users fail to do so, they may find themselves without a functional Internet connection. That being said, it would be wise to create an IPv6 migration plan. Though vendors and providers take care of most of the work behind the transition, users still need to be account for their software and equipment. Not all equipment and software is going to be compatible with IPv6; therefore, users need to be sure that all their software and equipment is up-to-date and ready for the upgrade. A good way to do this is via checklist. Inventory all equipment and research its IPv6 capability (and ‘transition’ capabilities). In addition to or instead of drafting a comprehensive checklist, users can define their functionality too. By doing this, users are able to make sure their equipment needs meet the functionality of their network. For example, IPv6 compatibility is typically good for basic small business Internet usage (i.e. emails, IMs, etc.); however, further planning is essential for more advanced operations (building cloud applications, supplier/customer/partner applications, etc.).
Management: With IPv4, users were tasked with manual or DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) network configuration. Inversely, IPv6 integrates auto configuration functions. Typically, IPv6 follows the plug-and-play approach in which users can connect their devices directly to the Internet while configuration happens automatically. This allows for simplified, more accessible, and more manageable networks. “You don’t need the same infrastructure to assign IPv6 addresses as you do for IPv4. If you’ve got an IPv6 capable network infrastructure, and you’ve got a device that uses it, it should already have an IPv6 address. It should all just work,” states Neil Cook, Chief Technology Officer for Cloudmark (a company that aids service providers in preparing for IPv6). This makes network usage and configuration much easier, especially newer users.
While IPv4 may seem significantly less impressive compared to IPv6, it’s important for users to remember two key factors: 1) IPv4 was developed at a time where Internet connectivity was NOT what it is today—i.e. many devices were not Internet capable. As such, current users’ needs do not align with capability; 2) though IPv4 may seem to be a relic, there have been extensions to meet Internet growth. Despite these attempts, each addition to IPv4 added increased maintenance, complicating management more and more. With these two factors in mind, users must remember the difference in time in which these protocols were created. As more and more users utilize Internet enabled devices, the necessities of functionality have changed. That being said, IPv6 is able to account for these changes and simplify management for all users, especially those with larger installations.
Security: Simply put, IPv6 has new security protocols baked into its core. IPv4 was established for a smaller, more controlled Internet population; however, things are different now. IPv6 is designed to meet the demands of a larger, more informed age of users. As such, the new protocol is able to implement new security capabilities that were previously unavailable—i.e. verify addresses and identities, establishing trust between routers, etc. In addition to these practices, IPv6 migration will breed routers and firewalls that are better able to defend against attacks and provide more secure connections. Separate from residential use, businesses stand to gain a lot too as IPv6’s security practices better business centric applications—i.e. automated order placement, customer billing, supplier relationships, etc.
Availability of IPv4 Addresses: As stated above, IPv4 space is finite; however, there are still many companies that have extra IPv4 addresses not currently in use. While these companies are encouraged to relinquish the space they’re not using it, few do. This is due to value. As IPv4 addresses become scarcer, the monetary value of these addresses increases—i.e. supply of addresses decreases, demand for addresses increases, pricing also increases. That being said, companies could potentially monetize these extra IPv4 addresses moving forward. While many have begun to migrate to IPv6, not everyone is settled in. As such, many are still looking for IPv4 addresses. Companies that have addresses may do well to hold on to them for the time being.
Without IPv6 users would soon hit the ceiling on connectable devices. While there’s no urgency in migrating to IPv6, many have begun to do so. Again, at this point it is unavoidable. Regardless, this doesn’t mean users should rush into it. Instead, it would be wise to consider the variables that currently exist.