Businesses and service providers today have most of their Internet infrastructure built on IPv4, but the influx of new mobile devices, websites and applications has chipped away at the last of IPv4's reserve of addresses.
As IPv4 addresses are dwindling to the point of exhaustion, network administrators will soon have no choice but to work with IPv6. But the IPv4-to-IPv6 transition won't be easy, because the two protocols were not designed to be interoperable. IT departments are beginning to seek out IPv6 training in order to accommodate the increasing number of Internet addresses.
"We are seeing a lot of companies suddenly realize that if their website is not IPv6-reachable, it's not really connected to the entire Internet," said John Curran, CEO and president of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). "Enterprises are making efforts to enable IPv6, but unless their IT staff has been working with IPv6, that suddenly creates a hurdle and a growing demand for IPv6 training."
IPv6 training: Learning the new protocol
While learning IPv6 will not be particularly hard -- especially for network engineers familiar with IPv4 -- it will take practice and experience in a training environment before the new protocol can be rolled into production alongside IPv4, Curran said.
CBT Nuggets, a provider of IT training videos, launched a new series aimed at developing IPv6 skills. The training will help familiarize IT with the new protocols and deployment methods associated with IPv6, and allow network administrators to practice IPv6 in a test environment, said Keith Barker, Cisco Designated VIP and CCIE, and creator of the online program.
Moving from IPv4's 32-bit addresses to IPv6's 128-bit addresses is a new concept for IT, Barker said. IT pros who understand IPv4 inside and out will find that "IPv6 works drastically different, even though the end result is the same. Users will still go to the same site and get the same content, but the actual configuration protocols are different."
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Future-proofing the network with IPv6
While IPv4 uses address resolution protocol, or ARP, for learning MAC addresses, IPv6 uses neighbor discovery protocol, or NDP, or router advertisement, which allows a new device or application to add itself to a network.
Routing protocols also differ between IPv4 and IPv6, Barker said. While many IT professionals are familiar with Open Shortest Path First, or OSPF, or Routing Information Protocol, or RIP, both operate differently in IPv6 environments. "IT has to relearn these protocols as they apply to IPv6," he said.
The training program walks network and server administrators through the new configuration details associated with IPv6, Barker said. "Practice with the new protocols is extremely important. Students are encouraged to take the configurations they learn with the series and put them to work to verify for themselves," he said.
IPv6 transition won't happen overnight
Network administrators know that for the time being, they will have to learn to run duel-stack IPv4 and IPv6 protocols. "There is a rush to figure out how to provide new services while still keeping the same IPv4 infrastructure in place," Barker said.
Despite the need for the two protocols to work harmoniously, the full IPv6 transition is on the horizon. While there is no set date or compelling event pushing the demand for IPv6 training, an organization's decision to roll out IPv6-enabled equipment and services will highlight the need for IT to train for IPv6 skills, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group Inc.
IT should follow the same best practices steps when transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 as it does when it's onboarding any new technology. "IPv6, just like any technology, will have to be tried and tested before rolling it rapidly into a production environment," Laliberte said.
IT training programs -- in addition to online reading materials -- will be helpful for many IT professionals with an IPv6 transition underway, ARIN's Curran said. Enterprises are routinely rolling out updates to their websites and applications. "The most important thing [businesses] can do is to take the effort to make sure those [updates] are IPv6 compatible and test the IPv6, as well as the IPv4 capabilities, of those applications and websites," he said. "As long as businesses are testing to make sure their sites and apps are IPv6 reachable, over time their staff will pick up experience, and the problem of being IPv6-ready will solve itself."