Managing the Migration to the Internet Protocol of the Future
By: Robert M. Morris
IPv6. It can be assumed that there isn’t a CIO/CTO on the planet that has not heard of that phrase. But what is IPv6? IPv6 is follow up to IPv4, which is the current Internet Protocol addressing scheme. However, due to the ever increasing popularity and necessity of the Internet and the increasing number of devices (computers, laptops, cell phones, cars, refrigerators, etc) that have the capabilities of accessing the internet, IPv4 is running out of addresses to give. Much like what happened with phone numbers in the late 80s to mid 90s, where the same areas started getting assigned multiple area codes and the population had to switch from 7 digit dialing to 10 digit dialing (even when calling locally), now the world needs more IP addresses. The world needs more IP address than what IPv4 can give, so a group of researchers in the Network Working Group in the Internet Engineering Task Force came up with the IPv6 specification in RFC 2460. (RFC 2460, 1998) With IPv6, there are 2128 IP addresses available, which come out to roughly 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 IP addresses; as compared to IPv4, which has only 232 possible unique IP addresses available, which come out to 4,294,697,296 IP addresses. With those numbers it can be seen why the world needs IPv6 implementation. However, there is one caveat. Technology managers must be able to have the forward thinking initiative to adapt to IPv6 migration, there must be deployment of IPv6 to the networks currently in use. Technology managers must be able to implement necessary change strategies that would work for their particular company and technological situation, and finally the management must not be afraid to be the first in what will be a very long line of organizations to make the migration to IPv6. (RFC 791, 1981)
Every technological manager and supervisor from the CIO/CTO level to the senior systems administrator level needs to be aware of the upcoming and inevitable IPv6 migration. They should also have a plan for such a migration, because without one, they and their organization will become technologically irrelevant and will be left in the dust as sands of time and change pass by them. They should not be afraid of change, and should explore several different implementation strategies to determine which one would work for their particular organization. Organizations really should be planning now for IPv6 migration, especially those organizations which are switching and routing vendors, vendors for telecommunications backbone hardware, and those ISP vendors that provide trunking connections for major and minor corporations and major and minor governmental agencies. Technological managers and supervisors (and indeed, organizations) should not only have the courage and forward thinking to support IPv6 migration and determine which implementation strategy would work for them, but they should also look at the companies and governmental agencies worldwide that have successfully implemented IPv6; doing so will ensure their relevancy and assist them in staying current in the ever-changing technological world. (Ahmed, 2000)
Why make the change?
IPv6 is coming, and businesses, especially those making devices and technologies that serve as the backbone of infrastructures must stay relevant with the coming IPv6 migration. This includes but not limited to governmental research agencies, universities, operating system manufacturers, routing and switching vendors/manufacturers, backbone telecommunications hardware and software, server hardware and software vendors/manufacturers, just to name a few. But why? Why make the change to IPv6? IPv4 seems to be working just fine, right? Well, to answer the first question, because soon you will have no choice, and to answer the second, yes IPv4 is working just fine, however IPv4 is running out of IP addresses. In fact, according to a daily report created by Geoff Houston, the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) will run out of unallocated IP addresses in August of 2011 and the RIR (Regional Internet Registries) will run out of unallocated IP addresses in May of 2012. (Huston, 2009) These are very important dates to remember, because even if they are off by just a few months, IPv6 migration is still necessary within the next 3 to 3.5 years. If no migration has taken place by that point, it is very possible that devices that need and want to connect to the internet will not be able to connect because they will not be able to get an IP address. As that type of problem propagates throughout the networked population, people will start complaining about the inability to connect, and will cancel services of all types (in regards to technology) which could have an potentially negative economic impact on the companies that are supposed to be providing services to the customers who can no longer access the services due to no IP addresses being available. That sort of situation is not good for both the organization and the end user. So the fix for this would be the IPv6 addressing scheme. As referenced before, the number of IP addresses within the IPv6 addressing scheme is extremely large. There are 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 IP addresses in the IPv6 addressing scheme, which compared to the Earth’s population of 6.5 billion people, that would be roughly 50 billion trillion trillion (50 octillion) IP addresses for ¬each person on the planet. (US Census, 2009) (Loy, 1999) Another way to look at it is this, using scientific notation, there are 3.4*1038 IP addresses in IPv6 and NASA scientists estimate that there are 1021 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the universe, so theoretically speaking, there are more IP addresses available in IPv6 than there are stars in the universe. (NASA, 1997)
With numbers such as those, it is inconceivable that IP addresses in IPv6 would run out like they are in IPv4 (however that has been said about many technologies before). CIOs/CTOs and their frontline counterparts should be very well aware of the capabilities that IPv6 will give to their organizations, and should not be afraid to migrate their technologies to support IPv6 architecture in addition to the current IPv4 architecture. One could ask the question “why support both architectures?” and the answer to that one is simple, backwards compatibility and to allow everyone on the net time to migrate fully to the new IP solution, IPv6.
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