Buyer's guide

Buyer's Guide: Forrester reveals the value of IPv6 to the enterprise

For the past 10 years there has been up-and-down interest in internet protocol version 6 (IPv6). During that time, a variety of sources have developed myths and scare tactics to get organisations to move to IPv6, creating fear, uncertainty and doubt about this “new” technology.

Today, there are very few IPv6 networks and hosts, and the amount of information available to infrastructure and operations (I&O) managers on how to transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is scarce. But don’t let that deter you. The inevitable transition to IPv6 is actually a good thing.

Your goal is to get started on your quest to use IPv6 as a foundation for a richer and stronger set of infrastructure services.

Business benefits

IPv6 can support a new set of customers. There is a large, untapped customer base in Asia that connects with IPv6-only devices and can only communicate with IPv6 hosts. 

Just 43% of the world’s population currently accesses the internet; in Asia, the penetration rate is just 20%. So in Asia alone, your business could tap into another three billion customers as they are rapidly coming online.

Another opportunity is in the possibility of a new revenue stream from digital services. Whether your business manufactures cars or provides a service, companies are moving to customised experiences. 

What is the difference between IPv4 and IPv6?

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) created a new version of internet protocol and addressed IPv4 limitations. 

To applications and users, the protocols seem very similar, but that is simply not true. Yes, they may act the same and don’t require a change to IPv4 infrastructure to keep running IPv4; however, they’re like two complete strangers from different countries passing each other on a busy city street. To understand why they will never speak to or understand each other, you need to look at the technical specifications:

  • An IPv4 address consists of four bytes (32 bits). The full range of IP addresses is from 0.0.0.0 through 255.255.255.255. That represents a total of 4.2x109 possible IP addresses.
  • IP addresses change significantly with IPv6. IPv6 addresses are 16 bytes (128 bits) long rather than four bytes (32 bits). IPv6 addresses are generally written in the following, more complex form: E3D7:0000:0000:0000:51F 4:9BC8:C0A8:6420 or E3D7::51F4:9BC8:C0A8:6420 or E3D7::51F4:9BC8:192.168.100.32. Due to the increased number of bits, IPv6 essentially offers each person today 5x1028 addresses.
  • The sheer size difference in and of itself hampers the two devices from speaking to each other, since the address is so long and IPv4 applications don’t have big enough reading glasses to see a full IPv6 address.

To enable this type of personalisation, applications will have to move beyond the network address translation (NAT) world that currently exists in every network environment. IPv6 removes the NAT barrier. Unique services generated for a user will require knowing that user and drawing on high-speed distributed computing by allowing flexible patterns of host-to-host communications.

Third is the chance of deploying real-time exchange of information through multi-modal collaboration. Employees are increasingly becoming empowered, and companies need to enable collaboration among their customers, suppliers and internal personnel.

Empowered employees are equipped with the mobile, video, social and cloud technologies needed to directly interface with and support customers. The next generation of SIP-based interpersonal communications applications – including voice over IP (VoIP) and innovative forms of messaging, presence and virtual room videoconferencing system (VRVS) – makes effective use of central servers to allow users to locate each other, then connects the users directly together for host-to-host communication. This type of communication breaks when either user is placed behind a NAT device.

Improved security

The new protocol offers technical benefits beyond just increased IP addresses. IPv6 requires the use of IPsec. Some have said that we have IPsec with IPv4 working today. However, the widespread use of network address translation in conjunction with IPv4 requires workarounds. Workarounds equate to waste, whether that be implementation errors, manual configurations, or extra hand-holding. IPv6 offers security embedded in the nature of the protocol, increasing the efficiency of the infrastructure. 

A second benefit of IPv6 is its plug-and-play capabilities, which include auto-configuration and Anycast address support. The result is the ability to deploy large numbers of simple IP-enabled devices without the need for configuration.

Simpler networking

IPv6 also offers features that eliminate the need for old capabilities. 

With IPv4, you need a DHCP server to dole out IP addresses. This works very well if there is a single DHCP server, but not so well when there are multiple servers and they supply conflicting information. It can also be hard to get a system to have the same address across reboots with DHCP. 

With IPv6, DHCP is largely unnecessary because of stateless auto-configuration. Routers give the host the upper 64 bits of an IPv6 address, and hosts generate the lower 64 bits themselves to form a complete address. Typically, the host puts in its media access control (MAC) addresses. Not only does this make addressing easier to manage, but also creates unique IP addresses for a device. Customised experiences can be created for that device and support these business benefits.

Selling the IPv6 transition to the CEO

Forrester doesn’t want to downplay the risks associated with not addressing IPv6, but IPv4 exhaustion is not resonating as a reason to switch. 

In fact, one infrastructure manager recently asked, “Other than the internet not working, what’s the business value? How do I sell this compared to virtualisation?”. The answer? It’s about remaining relevant and competitive. Technology that enables the real-time, dynamic flow of information is critical for top- and bottom-line growth.

Employees are increasingly becoming empowered, and companies need to enable collaboration among their customers, suppliers and internal personnel. Empowered employees are equipped with the mobile, video, social and cloud technologies needed to directly interface with and support customers. 

The next generation of SIP-based interpersonal communications applications – including voice over IP (VoIP) and innovative forms of messaging, presence and virtual room videoconferencing system (VRVS) – makes effective use of central servers to allow users to locate each other, then connects the users directly together for host-to-host communication. This type of communication breaks when either user is placed behind a NAT device.


This article is an extract from "Opening New Doors With IPv6" (Forrester, February 2011) by Andre Kindness, a senior analyst at Forrester serving IT infrastructure and operations professionals. Read his blog here.


Image: Thinkstock


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This was first published in February 2012

 

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