In today’s hyper-connected world, enterprises and consumers alike are more dependent on technology than ever before. It’s everywhere — as prevalent in our personal lives as our professional ones. We are now accustomed to being constantly connected; regularly demanding more sophisticated Internet-based applications that run on a wide variety of devices from PCs to tablets and smart phones. This prevalence of Internet applications is one force driving organisations towards using the IPv6 internet address protocol, as IPv6 provides a much greater number of internet addresses compared to IPv4. And with unallocated IPv4 address space nearing exhaustion, the move to IPv6 provides the means to ensure the future of IP based applications and the Internet itself. However, if these applications are to be available to the public, organisations need to ensure that their networks and those of their network provider are ready to support them. So what does a migration to IPv6 really mean and what are the benefits?
IPv4 vs. IPv6
Historically, the driver for the transition to IPv6 has been the depletion of IPv4 addresses. This is rapidly accelerating due to the global expansion of Internet connectivity, particularly in Asia. Current industry forecasts for exhaustion of the unallocated IPv4 address space range from 2011 to 2014. In addition to the address depletion, there’s growing recognition that IPv6 will present significant opportunities for enterprises, as new wired and wireless devices are developed around the world.
IPv6 is capable of handling many more Internet addresses to support both today’s applications and those yet to come. It will make it possible to increase the current 4 billion IPv4 addresses to roughly 340 trillion trillion trillion IPv6 addresses; this is down to IPv6 using 128-bit addresses in comparison to only 32-bit used by IPv4. This abundance means that globally unique IPv6 addresses can be assigned to objects within an enterprise environment, removing the need for private addressing, and consequently eliminating the capital, operating costs and complexity associated with deploying and maintaining Network Address Translation (NAT) devices.
Although some initial network and system investment may be required, from an overall cost perspective IPv6 can help manage — and potentially reduce — network and IT operating expenses over time. For example, the auto-configuration feature offered by IPv6 can help enterprises improve manageability and also streamline network administration costs.Potential cost benefits do not stop there. The local support for mobility permits the seamless integration and management of a mobile workforce into an enterprise. Plus IPv6 will enable the continued deployment of multimedia collaborative systems, helping enterprises obtain global greening and IT efficiency benefits by reducing the need for travel - therefore reducing the carbon footprint of the connected enterprise. What’s more, as both public and private IP networks are moving toward the use of IPv6 technology, investment in IPv6 rather than existing IPv4 applications provides investment longevity, fuelling longer term growth and scalability.
Opening new revenue streams and greater communications potential
All indications are that IPv6 will open up additional revenue streams through the development of newer, more sophisticated products to meet the demands of the IPv6 user.
One of the most important value propositions of IPv6 is its role in facilitating the emergence of the “Internet of Things” — also sometimes called “machine to machine communications” — a network interconnecting common objects equipped with embedded miniaturized intelligence modules. The enormous address space of IPv6 will enable support of smart appliances, mobile devices and associated services that will underpin the envisaged Internet of Things. In reality this means that machine-to-machine transactions — conducted without any human intervention — will be possible. In the connected enterprise, this will give rise to improvements in operational automation, productivity and efficiency.
Futurists have speculated the Internet of Things could potentially result in one of the largest transformations of human civilization subsequent to the Industrial Revolution. This evolution will represent a significant paradigm shift in the telecommunications sector and will create ripple effects on other industry segments. Because the number of objects that can be connected to the IPv6 network is infinite, this advancement will create unlimited market spaces for products and services that support machine-to-machine interaction.
An obvious reason for organisations to migrate to IPv6 is the potential to develop, support, and use the new and powerful applications enabled by the technology. These include applications such as sensor networks and telemetry applications for monitoring remote objects (e.g, vending machines, utility meters, etc.); streamlined battlefield communications, including access to real-time information about equipment and personnel vehicle-based applications, such as remote assistance and tracking capabilities, including on-board diagnostics and inventory management and control through integration with radio frequency identification (RFID) systems.
IPv6 also enables the deployment and evolution of fourth generation wireless networks such as 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE), which will substantially increase bandwidth capacity available to end-users.
When is it the right time to transition?
In light of technical developments and the benefits offered by IPv6, one can argue that the transition to IPv6 is inevitable. However, the basic dilemma confronting enterprises is not whether to evolve to IPv6, but when and how to implement the transition.
In essence, major communications carriers must deploy IPv6 in their networks before their customers can take full advantage of its benefits. Organizations should therefore turn to experienced carriers that share their own commitment to IPv6 in order to support their own migration process. Verizon, for example, made an early commitment to evolve its global public and private IP networks to support IPv6, and was one of the first carriers to deploy IPv6 on its public IP backbone.
A key starting point for any organisation migrating to IPv6 is to establish an overall company-wide strategy for a smooth IPv6 adoption. Generally, a phased transition plan will minimize associated incremental costs and risks. Due diligence should include considering what the IPv6 requirements will be in future planned product replacements; ensuring that IPv6 compliance is mandated when procuring new hardware and software; and most importantly allocating investment for staff training and IPv6 competency development. Then, following this initial preparation, an organisation can clearly determine which transition method is right for its individual business.
IPv6 is the future
IPv6 is no longer just a solution to IPv4 address depletion; it is a driver for sophisticated new business models that could transform, automate, and optimize the enterprise operating environment. IPv6 can usher in new opportunities for the way people do business and communicate. The key to harnessing this IPv6 potential is preparation, understanding, and developing a clear path for making the initial move.