IPv6 is the next-generation Internet Layer protocol and is intended to solve the address problem and make the Internet more scalable, mainly by using a 128-bit address to support about 3.4× 1038 addresses. This number of addresses eliminates the need for Network Address Translation, a referral technique for delaying IPv4 address exhaustion. Other benefits include stateless address auto configuration and network renumbering, while network security is integrated into the design of the IPv6 architecture.
The reason you need to familiarize yourself with IPv6 and build a test IPv6 infrastructure is that the move to an IPv6-based Internet will start to happen quickly. I know it's been talked about for years, but so was Y2K, and look what a last-minute panic that turned out to be.
So why not be prepared this time around and plan for IPv6 in order to make your transition a smooth and cost-effective one? IPv6 brings many new capabilities that network teams need to become familiar with in order to get the most out of them. By building a test infrastructure, you can examine IPv6 firsthand, test how it affects various applications, research what router and other network configuration changes are needed, and find out how suppliers or partners are preparing. If you've got Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003 or 2008, you already have operating systems that enable you to build a test IPv6 infrastructure. Apple's OS X has supported IPv6 since 2004, and so have most of the Linux and Unix OSes.
Obviously there will be costs involved in introducing IPv6 into your network, but for most network hardware and software upgrades, they're considered to be negligible. Many required upgrades can be done as part of your routine upgrade cycles. A recent study conducted by the Department of Commerce concluded that for every $1 invested in IPv6 you can expect a $10 return in cost savings.
Auto-configuration will save costs in managing and renumbering networks, particularly in mobile and ad-hoc networks. The costs of managing and working around NAT will disappear, while remote monitoring and support services can reduce service and support costs and increase product life expectancy. The bulk of the investment outlay will come from leveraging these and other advantages of IPv6.
Security as well as address management are both areas in which careful IPv6 planning is required, but by building a test IPv6 infrastructure now, you can complete your education and research and create a good transition plan for your network. By being ahead of the game, you can upgrade your network step by step without the time pressure that may come later on.
This was first published in July 2009