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June 6, 2012updated 23 Aug 2016 2:50pm

IPv6 Launch Day: New Challenges for business

Although the newer IP standard has been given a big boost as part of world IPv6 day, many businesses are putting upgrades down the priority list.

By Allan Swann

IPv6 represents the first update to the internet’s address system since IPv4’s launch in 1974. All the available addresses under the 32-bit IPv4 standard have been exhausted, around 4 billion, commonly referenced in the format: 192.168.0.1.

IPv6 is a 128-bit addressing system, which allows for trillions upon trillions of addresses – of vital importance not just because the available address spaces are filling up, but also because the rate of internet adaptation for non-traditional computing devices (such as fridges and wristwatches, as part of the ‘internet of things’) will accelerate. IPv6 addresses appear more like 20DC:00X9:0000:6D2A:03BD:00GX:TU28:7D2A – allowing for far more permutations.

The transition to IPv6 has already begun, as IPv4 ran out in January 2011. What today’s ‘IPv6 Launch Day’ represents for the internet community is more a commitment to encourage usage of the standard – which has been under deployment since 2006.

There are already some IPv6-only websites, which older devices – including PCs running Windows older than Vista and Mac’s older than MacOS 10.7 will not be able to access, but these are extreme cases used more to highlight the new standard.

The two standards are incompatible, meaning the two standards will be run side by side for some time. Most end users will never notice the difference, as the world wide web will continue to function as normal.

The proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, and other smart devices as well as machine-to-machine (M2M) connections are driving a demand that Cisco has estimated will be for 18.9 billion connections by 2016. This will be almost 2.5 connections per person, compared with just 10.3 billion connections last year.

All new devices will support IPv6 as standard, the issue becomes more to do with legacy devices.

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However, the migration may inadvertently expose businesses to risks that the IT department may not have foreseen, says Qing Li, Chief Scientist at Blue Coat Systems.

"One of the key challenges for businesses in the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is how to maintain consistent levels of security. As it stands, IPv6 traffic may be running undetected and uncontrolled on a company’s existing IPv4 network, creating a potential backdoor for cyber criminals to access the corporate network, as well as allowing employees to bypass corporate Internet usage policies. Businesses must find a way to apply controls and enforce policies for this application traffic.

"Understandably, CIOs are still apprehensive about what IPv6 adoption could do to their infrastructure, but IT departments must seriously consider the security ramifications of a heterogeneous environment with both IPv4 and IPv6, as well as what happens when networks become fully IPv6. The time to prepare is now."

Mark Lewis, VP of development at cloud services company Interoute agrees, especially as more and more devices become internet gate ways.

"The introduction of IPv6 will effectively mean that every device, from the mobile phone to the vending machine could become a mole in the office. This puts the onus on organisations to secure and understand these new internet enabled devices that operate within the office walls. From one perspective, the introduction of IPv6 effectively opens a series of new back doors for viruses to sneak through," he said.

NHR’s Glenn Fassett doesn’t seem to think the change over is a priority for most CIOs and IT departments, as it should’ve been factored into any business plans over the last 12 months.

"My bet is that the majority of CIOs didn’t spend last night anxiously waiting in their data centres in anticipation of network failure at the stroke of midnight. It’s been a decade in the coming – businesses are either ready now, or not," he said.

"Typically, those who have a greater understanding of the pre-owned market are most knowledgeable about the potential pitfalls of IPv6 migration and have been able to build this into their IT strategies accordingly over the last 12 months."

Fassett believes that IT directors and CIOs may be feeling hype exhaustion, that is a wariness built up over time as vendors aggressively push products onto to customers, whether its needed or not.

"In the last year or two, we’ve worked with customers who have been embroiled in a ‘hype-cycle’ with OEMs who are urging them to upgrade their networks – in some cases, unnecessarily so. We’ve been actively encouraging our customers to conduct third-party, independent network assessments in order to gauge exactly which devices require upgrading to facilitateIPv6 and which do not."

Ovum’s Mark Sapien believes that the carrot has been far more effective than the stick when attempting to get departments to migrate to IPv6.

"The proliferation of devices, mobile access to resources and B2C applications are driving customers to support IPv6. In addition, this isn’t really a complete migration – it is more of a dual-support capability that will be enabled for many years to come," he said.

"Government regulations will also drive this support. We are increasingly seeing government promoting deployment of IPv6. This combined with mobile device support and mobile access to web resources are the main drivers for most businesses. Customers will need to take a good inventory of their IT resources that are now IPv4, have a phased plan for dual IPv4/IPv6 support and implement this plan. This planning also needs to include third-party partners, resources and links that can be easily overlooked. Now is the time for customers to go beyond planning and get to the test and implement phase."

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