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Finding IPv6-capable network appliances

IPv6-capable network appliances are few and far between, especially WAN optimization accelerators. Find out in this Q&A why that is and what features to look for.

When it's time for a product refresh, how do you find network appliances that are IPv6 capable to future-proof your enterprise WAN? Do you look for the IPv6 Ready Logo or the USGv6? In particular, why are so many wide area network vendors slow to incorporate IPv6 capabilities into their WAN accelerators? spoke to book author and Blue Coat chief scientist Qing Li, who led the WAN appliance vendor to deploy an IPv6 internal network, pushed the team to participate in World IPv6 Day and advised how to develop a WAN optimization solution to accelerate IPv6 traffic—the first and only currently in the industry. We asked what enterprises can do to find WAN devices and services ready for an IPv6 migration and how World IPv6 Day—June 8, 2011—motivates vendors to create network hardware devices that are IPv6 capable.

What is holding network vendors back from deploying IPv6-capable network appliances?

Qing Li: [Vendors] need to figure out what kind of features need to be built into appliances and solutions, how customers can really benefit from those features and how much to charge for them. That was a real challenge for Blue Coat, because you have a chicken and egg situation: If I build a feature, is my customer going to use it? But if my customer doesn't use it [it makes no sense to build it]. I think this was a real challenge for many network vendors. Because Blue Coat started [with] the problem much earlier, we were able to work with the customers from the beginning, and come up with a solution set that was very specific to each market sector: the service provider, enterprise and government.

Will World IPv6 Day motivate the network appliance vendors to create more IPv6-capable devices?

Li: Absolutely! There's definitely a huge amount of motivation for hardware vendors. In Blue Coat's case, many larger organizations are leveraging Blue Coat's solution to participate in the event, because Blue Coat is the first vendor to offer [IPv6] Secure Web Gateway and the first vendor to offer [a] WAN optimization solution in a native IPv6 infrastructure. That gave us motivation to deliver those IPv6 functionalities to our customers as quickly as possible. Having a Blue Coat solution prominently displayed during that day is very important, and this goes for other vendors as well. We offer various IPv6 capabilities and solutions for in the [IPv6] infrastructure and also in the application space.

Why is it difficult for WAN optimization vendors to accelerate IPv6?

Li: You really have to look at all of the capabilities in the existing IPv4 offering. For example, international organizations with offices in APAC, EMEA and North America expect that when they apply IPv6, all those wonderful things in terms of WAN optimization and application acceleration in IPv4 will also be available to them in IPv6. This means having a solution that says IPv6 Ready is more than just a low-level support. That solution must have the application intelligence to be able to understand both v4 and v6 characteristics and how the applications and content are delivered over those infrastructures. That takes quite some time to perfect, especially for the transitional types of [IPv6] solutions. It took us nearly three years to really make our solution for WAN optimization very comprehensive and mature. So if a vendor hasn't started, say, two to three years ago, they are way behind. And guess what? The customer expectations are very high. They expect the same set of capabilities in terms of WAN optimization for both v6 and v4, and when they are ready to adopt IPv6, that secure WAN optimization capability must be ready for them to deploy.

For enterprises that have routers and other network hardware appliances that are not IPv6 capable, is there a specific logo they need to look for or any specifications that will enable them to deploy IPv6?

Li: [While] the IPv6 Ready Logo Program is very important, you really have to look at the solution in terms of what capabilities actually apply to you. There are a lot of standards out there about IPv6, and a hardware appliance vendor may say, ‘Here is a giant list of RFCs and standards that we support in a product, but we have no IPv6 Ready Logo certification.’ You need to look at the list and ask whether all of the functionalities apply to you and whether your needs are covered in that list.

One example is IPv6 privacy extension … [which] is very important for individual end consumers. IPv6 privacy extension provides anonymity to users when they go on the Internet so that a hacker or observer does not have a good ability to correlate traffic that you generate today versus the traffic that you generated the day before or a week ago. That's great for privacy for individual users, but that functionality is not applicable to enterprise environments. Why? Because if individual users within an organization can generate dynamic IPv6 addresses—then there are global addresses—and [they are] able to create secure tunnels to the outside world, that's a security risk. Today, a common thing that we see is that even though IPv6 has this great plug-and-play capability, enterprises actually control how IPv6 addresses are being assigned to individual work stations and to individual users within an enterprise environment.

So, a logo certification is great. A giant list of standard and support is wonderful, but for any organization, they really have to look at the services and applications that are deployed today and how those new IPv6 solutions might help them support those applications to support those services. Because one of the things that has been holding IPv6 adoption back is not the routers, not the switches, not the links or the firewalls—it's the lack of [IPv6] services and content support at a higher layer.

See how Blue Coat is helping enterprises deploy IPv6 in this video interview with chief scientist Qing Li:

Learn in these articles how lagging IPv6 security features vulnerabilities could hamper your IPv6 transition and where WAN managers are with their IPv6 migration strategies.

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