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With SDN, IPv6 transition may not be so hard

With SDN, IPv6 transition might be easier, since physical addresses will be managed through a controller and be part of a larger automated system.

It's very likely that you remember your home phone number from third grade. You probably also remember the IP address of the first router you ever configured (and broke and configured again). But do you remember the address of the first IPv6 device you configured? Probably not. You might also not remember old mobile numbers or your work number without looking at the display on your 7900.

IPv6 isn't complex, but for some reason we perceive that it is. Addresses with 128 bits are so plentiful and just large enough to resist easy recall. But what if SDN does for IPv6 what the Domain Name System did for the Internet? What if it's a framework that humanizes an increasingly daunting complexity both real and perceived? What if SDN makes IPv6 a non-event?

SDN, IPv6: With controllers, who cares what the address looks like?

But over time, with SDN we'll come to think of resources by name first, and the mapping to physical addresses will move under the covers of directory services and controller databases.

Without doubt, implementing programmable networks that are virtualized and managed through intelligent interfaces and automated policies will significantly increase complexity. But as with server virtualization, complexity begets efficiency. Architecting and configuring hypervisors and converting physical server infrastructures to virtual ones are undeniably complex processes. They are the realm of sharp engineers with ninja skills. But once configured, the infrastructure complexity isn't apparent on a day-to-day basis since tasks are completed with management interfaces that are based on the more natural organizational constructs of their human operators. Virtualization management tools allow us to take what we're good at -- storing complex, multidimensional system models in our heads -- and map it to the complex minutia of the machine-defined physical configuration underneath.

This kind of automation and simple management will change the way we look at IPv6. With IPv6, we focus too much on the differences with its ancestor, IPv4. But over time, with SDN we'll come to think of resources by name first, and the mapping to physical addresses will move under the covers of directory services and controller databases.

We'll stop thinking about address details, just as engineers before us stopped thinking about MAC addresses when they moved on to IP. They let the network sort out the protocol details. Perhaps in your lifetime you watched the Internet be born, not from interconnectivity, but rather from DNS. It's DNS that allows your mom to shop, not at, but at The "complexity" of DNS drove the adoption of IP, routing and rich service interconnections. Imagine configuring an access rule allowing bob.smith to connect to exchangecluster1.noc.virginia without ever seeing an IP address. Most administrators won't care if it's IPv4 or v6, and IT managers will move their teams past their long-held reluctance to dealing with v6 addressing.

Minority Report and the Internet of Things

Though wonderfully cinematic, I can't imagine trying to actually close tickets using a Minority Report workstation. Standing all day, waving your arms around cantilevered out in front of you would be exhausting. Forget carpal tunnel -- you'd have carpal shoulder or back. But this is an interesting starting point to learn the potential of SDN.

Consider today's steps of adding a new direct link between remote campuses. You pull bandwidth reports to determine that a direct WAN link is needed to gain headroom in existing links with headquarters. You have pages of details to review with the ISPs, then you configure routing, debug for days, and finally hit the switch, only to find there are hundreds of firewall rules that need to be updated or migrated for services you weren't even aware of. Now include IPv6 in the mix, and the fact that localized, multilingual, top-level domains, or gTLDs, produce addresses that look like this: نقطة-شبكة.امارات . Plus, the forthcoming Internet of Things (Cisco's Internet of Everything), which will make it a challenge to determine if an endpoint is a smart light bulb that needs occasi

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onal REST to an HTTP port, or if it's bob.smith trying frantically to hit his Exchange mailbox over VPN from Costa Rica.

Enter SDN and programmable networks, where you'll simply define user policy classes and drag bob.smith into one of these categories. His device will advertise its configuration and needs, and bob.smith's and his login context will link to an identity store with service descriptors. Then the routers, switches, hypervisors and app servers will advertise their individual requirements for connectivity, security and performance. Your SDN controller infrastructure will respond to Bob's login request at a kiosk in Costa Rica, reconfiguring access to provide a smooth user experience. It will also alter access policies to adapt for the reduced security of his endpoint.

It will all run on IPv6, but you won't care -- you'll have a help desk queue full of issues unimaginable today. Fortunately, you'll do it comfortably with a finger on a touchscreen or a mouse. Breaking your back by flapping your arms wildly about is not part of any SDN tool interface seen so far, even if it's still a common reaction when you bring up IPv6.

About the author:
Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical-product marketing manager at SolarWinds. With 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective, his networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, storage networks, VoIP and virtualization with a focus on application and service delivery in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries. He can be reached at

This was last published in November 2013

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Will SDN ease the IPv6 transition?
Because it creates a fairly painless IP address space translation that doesn't consume additional precious IPv4 addresses and it does so merely in the process of doing its MPLS-like job. SDN and the already IPv6 integrated world of wireless fronthall and backhaul will provide a natural bridge to IPv6 that actually can attract capital imho. :)