IPv6 guide part 3: technology issues

In part 3 of our IPv6 guide we look at why organisations are turning to dual stack environments to transition from IPv4 to IPv6

Recognising that translation technology is often unstable, enterprises are opting for a dual-stack environment when undertaking migrations to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

See our IPv6 Guide part 1: Slow migration to IPv6 a costly mistake

The first Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the world to undertake dual stack IPv6 on PPPoE, Internode, didn't use translation technology but chose dual stack connectivity.

Internode network engineer, Mark Newton, said that in a dual stack world services which are difficult to move to IPv6 can stay on IPv4 indefinitely.

"It creates a much more fluid environment for the transition because individual services can be picked up and migrated when good solutions become available; I don't expect IPv4 to go away completely for the foreseeable future," he said.

"We’re not using translation technology, we’re offering our customers dual stack connectivity and recommend enterprises do the same."

See our IPv6 guide part 2: Budgeting for IPv6 migration

Newtown said the implementation of dual stack IPv6 across the ISP’s global network took less than two months from beginning to end.

"Implementation on our broadband access platforms has taken longer because we had to work collaboratively with our network vendor to get the required software features supported. Enterprise users won't have that problem," he said.

Newtown said the good news is that migrating to IPv6 isn't as complex as some analysts have predicted.

In enterprise terms, he said the task is comparable in scope to the migrations undertaken in the late 1990s from Novell IPX to TCP/IP.

"That task looked daunting before it began too, but in hindsight it was relatively seamless once a willingness to commit was secured," he said.

"The mechanical aspect of IPv6 migration into your network is pretty straightforward. Enterprise routers and switches have supported it out of the box for years now, so the technical hurdles are more or less point and shoot.

"The non-technical aspects are where the most effort needs to be invested including management, training and support issues."

Newton said the major considerations that should be included in a migration checklist are: policy issues such as creating an IPv6 addressing plan; security by ensuring firewall and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) support IPv6; vendor support and addressing gaps in functionality and; internal IT such as staff training and application audits.

Gartner senior analyst, Eric Siegel, labelled translation technology imperfect and unstable in a research note on IPv6 migration.

He said technical issues can occur when IPv6 endpoints try to communicate with IPv4 endpoints as translation is not seamless or efficient.

"Some translations fail or are so slow as to be unusable," Siegel said.

Software must be rewritten, at least in part, to native IPv6 connections.

Siegel suggests taking advantage of IPv6's new features internally on new development projects particularly sensor networks, wireless and building automation.

"Start small, and use it on a non-critical project if the team doesn't already have IPv6 experience," he added.

Siegel agrees it is better to avoid relying on translation gateways, and better to use IPv6-capable interfaces to the Internet.

He said the enterprise can provide those interfaces by altering its servers or by using translation software in enterprise-owned gateways or application front end processors.

"Translation difficulties will still exist but the enterprise will be able to tune the translation mechanism for specific situations," Siegel said. "Internal networks can continue to operate using IPv4."

Because the translation technologies and production use of IPv6 are new, risk assessments and contingency plans are needed to ensure connectivity in the event of difficulties, Siegel said.

"External service providers may be useful in these plans," he added.

see our IPv6 guide part 4: IPv6 products lack features

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More about: etwork, Gartner, Internode, Intrusion, Novell
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