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Unlike Elvis, IPv6 is in the building

As the large group of IT administrators and engineers filed into the IPv6 session at this year’s Interop Las Vegas, they probably were expecting to hear yet another boring lecture about the importance of upgrading from IPv4.

After all, it’s been 15 years since IPv6 was ratified. And for proponents of the specification, it must seem it will be another 15 before it gets adopted in the majority of enterprise and service provider networks.

These Interop attendees already knew the benefits of IPv6: it is a more efficient transmission method; it supports more robust security standards. And they are well aware that IPv4 is running out of addresses. IPv6, with its 128-bit addressing scheme, is the only logical solution, backers say.

But those reasons alone hadn’t motivated most of the engineers sitting in the Mandalay Bay conference room in Las Vegas to make the move. Despite the benefits of IPv6, making the necessary infrastructure changes to adopt the new standard takes work, time and money. And for most organizations, those three ingredients are always in short supply.

So it was up to speaker Edward Horley to persuade these professionals why it was time to move to IPv6. And he had a very convincing argument: You already have IPv6 in your networks, he said, and if you haven’t properly planned for it, prepare for trouble.

And how did IPv6 sneak in the networks overseen by these engineers, the vast majority of whom said they weren’t running the new protocol? From simple upgrades, Horley said. Upgrades or deployments of such common operating systems as Microsoft Windows Vista, 7, 8 or Server 2008, for example, are all grounded in IPv6, as is Server 2008R2, 2012 and 2012R2.

“You’ve already deployed it. It’s already there, and you better know what it is doing in your network,” said Horley, principal solutions architect at Campbell, Calif.-based Groupware Technology and a long-time IPv6 evangelist. “This is one of the things people don’t understand. It’s on by default. This is your domain of responsibility, and it’s your job to understand it.”

What all of this means, Horley said, is that network administrators better learn, and learn quickly, how IPv6 will affect their operations. “I am here to tell you that you did deploy IPv6, you didn’t do it in an educated way and you need to understand the impact,” he said. “It’s alarming: The vendors did this and they didn’t tell you. Well, it’s easier to adopt and support IPv6 than to run away or ignore it.”

Horley didn’t sugarcoat the challenges administrators face. The transition, he said, “will be ugly for everyone because we’ve been kicking the can for 10 years.” As a result, carriers have resorted to tactics such as carrier grade network address transition (CGN) to mitigate the exhaustion in IPv4 addresses. But there are serious shortcomings to that technique, especially for websites such as Google Maps that require hundreds of sessions to complete. And dual-stack, a tool that permits the support of both protocols, doesn’t hold a long-term answer either, Horley said.

“Six solves these problems,” he said.

But wait. As the informercial announcers like to say, there’s more.

Further delay in migrating to IPv6 will also begin to seriously impact such elemental services as VPNs, VoIP and Session Initiation Protocol-based operations, Horley said.

Bottom line? “You don’t have to start tomorrow, but you do have to start thinking about it,” Horley said, adding yet another reason why administrators can’t wait: the end of Windows XP support. As that popular OS gets phased out at enterprises, three guesses at what’s waiting in the wings.

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