What do businesses need to know about IPv6

IPv6 adoption is growing –what do businesses need to know in 2016?

In 2015, the free pool of IPv4 in North America finally dried up, meaning that everywhere in the world, except for Africa, now has very few addresses left. This is bringing the need for IPv6 into stark focus, with major organisations across a number of different industries throwing their support behind the updated protocol – Apple has made IPv6 support mandatory for all app developers, Google and Facebook are fully IPv6-enabled and even the likes of Spotify are experimenting.

This year will be an even bigger one for IPv6 as this momentum builds and IPv4 exhaustion moves from being a problem for networks to solve in the future – to a daily reality that impacts their operations. It’s time for businesses to get on board, or risk losing out on new connected business innovations in the years to come.

What is IPv6? Why does it matter right now?

Every device that connects to the internet needs an IP address, a unique identifier, and we’ve very nearly run out of them. The original standard, IPv4, was only designed with 4.3 billion possible addresses. This seemed like plenty back when the Internet was still in the experimental stage, but it’s no longer enough to sustain the ubiquitous global network that the modern internet has become. In 2015, ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for North America, announced that its IPv4 address pool had reached exhaustion and three of the other four RIRs, including the RIPE NCC, have been distributing small blocks of addresses on a severely restricted basis for some time now.

IPv6, the replacement for IPv4, allows for 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses – more than enough to connect every pen in every office in the world to the internet. The only real problem is that IPv6 doesn’t speak the same language as IPv4, so both protocols must be run “dual-stacked” alongside one another. If a business is only using one, it won’t be able to connect with customers using the other. More than one in ten (12.5 per cent) of worldwide users are currently accessing Google via IPv6, and this number has been growing quickly, so now really is the time for businesses to become IPv6 enabled.

Who else is adopting IPv6?

So what do internet service providers get by rolling out IPv6 on this scale? They establish themselves at the cutting edge of the internet’s future, ensuring that as customers connect more and more devices to the internet, they will have a seamless experience, whether that’s wearables, connected homes or even driverless cars and smart cities of the future. They avoid having to implement complex and costly workarounds and the result is a stronger network that is better positioned to grow in the years to come.

What should businesses be doing to deploy IPv6?

IT managers are often pushed to deploy workarounds like Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGNAT) which involves employing hardware that shares one public IPv4 address between thousands of customers. While CGNATs might be a necessary evil during the transition to IPv6, they introduce additional layers of complexity and create single points of failure – if a CGNAT fails, many people are affected rather than just one. CGNATs also break the end-to-end principle of the Internet and can prevent a number of business software tools that require unique IDs from working.

IPv6 offers simplicity and preserves end-to-end communication. However, deploying IPv6 requires planning, training and compatible equipment; it doesn’t happen overnight. Alongside offering IPv6 training to IT staff, businesses should be looking to develop and execute an IPv6 deployment plan in 2016.

Our colleagues at AFRINIC wrote an excellent plan for setting up an IPv6 web server:

  1. Perform audit of the web server infrastructure to ensure it can support IPv6
  2. Address any recommendations from the audit above
  3. Review security policy relating to the web services and update it to cover IPv6
  4. Create AAAA records in DNS infrastructure for the web server
  5. Configure IPv6 addresses on the web server
  6. Configure IPv6 addresses on load balancers (if applicable)
  7. Configure web server software to accept and serve requests over IPv6
  8. Establish a test plan for this deliverable
  9. Test the web server against the test plan and address any issues
  10. Launch the service
  11. Update all relevant documentation

It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of businesses and the future of the internet are inextricably linked, so adopting IPv6 has never been more important. Not adopting IPv6 in 2016 carries several risks, including limiting creativity and productivity by hindering the expansion of the internet within organisations. This year will be a landmark year in IPv6 adoption, and it is time for businesses to get on board.

Nathalie Künneke-Trenaman, IPv6 Program Manager at the RIPE NCC.