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Why Now Is the Time to Take IPv6 Seriously

Dr David Holder CEng FIET MIEEE

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Everything, that we do on the internet, whether it be email, social media, voice-over-IP or web-browsing, is all carried by the internet protocol (IP). For three decades, our internet traffic has been carried by the archaic Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4).

However, from the very beginning of the internet, the internet community has known that IPv4 could not last forever. Designed with too few addresses for the needs of even the early 1990s, IPv4 has required an increasingly complex set of fixes and bodges to keep it functioning. Despite these herculean efforts and a significant investment in work-arounds to keep IPv4 working, IPv4 has still run out of address space.

Today, there are no IPv4 addresses left and the end of IPv4 is finally in sight. Not only are we out of IPv4 addresses but the quality of the IPv4 internet is deteriorating. The very fixes that have kept IPv4 going have introduced a proliferation of problems that are now having a big impact on the functionality or the operation of the internet.

These problems are not theoretical. They are having a real impact on businesses today. They impact many areas of internet operations including growth, performance, manageability, security, flexibility and reliability.

One widely deployed IPv4 fix is Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGN). I was the main author of a recent report for the UK telecommunication regulator Ofcom in which I listed many of the problems that exist in the internet today resulting from the IPv4 address shortage and the subsequent adoption of CGN. Whilst hidden from view, CGN problems negatively impact all players from content providers through to service providers and end users. CGN is affecting you today even though you may not realise it.

The only long term solution to all the problems of IPv4 is a new version of the internet protocol. The new version, called IPv6, has been around for twenty years. Not only does IPv6 provide practically unlimited address space, it fixes the problems in the legacy IPv4 internet and brings with it new features and improvements that will make possible the ongoing growth of the internet.

As IPv4 struggles to support today’s internet, IPv6 is seeing a rapid growth in adoption. Large parts of the global Internet are now IPv6 enabled. This includes 100% of transit carriers and most of the world’s largest internet content providers, such as Google, Akamai, LinkedIn, YouTube, Netflix and Facebook. Today, if you have both IPv6 and IPv4, you will find that IPv6 is carrying over 70% of your traffic leaving only 30% to be carried by IPv4. Furthermore, over 14% of end users worldwide now have IPv6 connectivity. At the current rate of IPv6 adoption, all end users will be IPv6 connected before 2020.

An increasing number of organisations are looking to deploy IPv6-only networks in which they eliminate legacy IPv4 from their internal networks. This is nothing new. One of our customers deployed an IPv6-only network over fifteen years ago. Recently, Apple mandated that all applications in its App Store must be able to function over IPv6-only networks. Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Cisco are all moving to IPv6-only networks. ISPs, universities and enterprises are beginning to look at where they can leverage IPv6-only networks to avoid the problems of IPv4 and reduce costs by having only one protocol to manage.

This year the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (who set the standards for the internet) have drafted a standard that will formally end work on IPv4.

Organisations have reported that customers connecting to their services over IPv6 see improved performance. Facebook found that their IPv6 users benefited from a 15% performance improvement over IPv4.

Many organisations have or are in the process of deploying the Internet of Things (IoT). IPv4 cannot support the predicted billions of IoT devices. The only long-term solution for IoT deployment is IPv6. As a result, all the main IoT vendors and standards bodies are moving to IoT solutions that are based on IPv6.

So where are you today? Has your organisation deployed IPv6 yet or do you have a plan to do so? Now is the time for you to act. Prepare for IPv6, educate your staff, create an IPv6 deployment plan and ensure that your systems are IPv6 ready.

Dr David Holder CEng FIET MIEEE

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