IPv6 guide part 4: IPv6 products lack features

In part four of our IPv6 guide we look at the IPv6 capability of networking products

Enterprises continue to cop criticism for not migrating to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) but the real laggards are the vendors who keep all the bells and whistles for their IPv4 product ranges.

See our IPv6 guide part 2: Budgeting for IPv6 migration

That’s the view of John Mann, network architect at Monash University, who is one of the earliest adopters of IPv6 technology in Australia.

Even today, many vendors don't have feature and performance parity between IPv4 and IPv6 products, Mann argues.

"Most vendors have a router with lots of bells and whistles supporting IPv4 but it isn't necessarily the same for IPv6," he said. "When it comes to developing products, we like to think forward looking vendors build ahead of demand.

"The situation is made worse because users aren't really testing IPv6 features to see what is missing."

See our IPv6 guide part 3: technology issues

Recently Ovum released research confirming that enterprises are still resisting the move to IPv6.

The analyst firm claims this resistance is due to more pressing IT priorities and a lack of immediate return on investment (ROI).

Moreover, there is no IPv6 ‘killer app’, its main claim to fame is that it solves the Internet's address shortage problem.

"Another challenge is that IPv4 isn't completely broken yet,” Mann said. “Plus IPv6 is a lower layer protocol, users cannot tell if they are using IPv6 or IPv4. For an enterprise IPv6 is an invisible change.”

See our IPv6 guide part 3: technology issues

Despite this Mann said a benefit of invisibility is that IPv6 can be enabled in parallel with IPv4.

“By putting AAAA records in the DNS, traffic can be gradually moved across without users noticing,” he added.

Mann admits the business case for IPv6 isn't exactly sexy, but believes migrating to IPv6 isn't just another infrastructure upgrade.

He describes IPv6 migration as a form of “business continuity insurance.”

"A little bit of expense over the next few years is a hedge against a future when IPv4 exhaustion bites," he said. "For example, 4G mobile users have native IPv6 that works better than large-scale IPv4 NAT. End to end protocols like video-telephony or sensor networking have a business advantage."

Monash University began its migration to a dual stack environment in 2002 and by 2005 was providing IPv6 IT services to a number of faculties.

Just because the benefits are not obvious, Mann said migration shouldn't be delayed.

He said leverage existing upgrade, replacement and testing cycles to add IPv6 capability.

"A rushed IPv6 deployment later will be of lower quality and more disruptive," Mann said. "Extra effort will be required to rework systems already in production. It's always better to avoid the risk of forklift upgrades for incompatible systems."

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Mann says Monash viewed the move to a dual stack environment as an opportunity to revisit existing network configuration, management, monitoring, procedures and control systems.

"The university has enough skilled staff and a big enough network so that writing our own tools is actually cost effective," he said. "We don't have to wait for vendors we can get tools customised to do exactly what we want.

"Monash accesses Google Apps for staff and student e-mail over IPv6 so we rely on it working.

"On World IPv6 Day our users fetched 400GB of Internet content over IPv6."

When building a business case for IPv6, it is important to point out that migration isn't just an Internet plumbing issue as it impacts all areas of the business from email to back office billing.

With such broad business reach it is a project that requires a multi-year timeframe, according to Tony Hill, president of the Internet Society of Australia and managing director of consultancy, IPv6Now.

Hill said organisations working on a transition plan should keep it simple referring to the IPv6 strategy used by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) as a good example.

The AGIMO plan is restricted to three headings - preparation, transition and implementation.

It was first developed in 2007 and proposed all federal government agencies be IPv6 capable by 2012 and operate dual stack IPv4/IPv6 environments by 2015. However, a revised transition strategy was released and updated in 2009 bringing these deadlines forward several years as the availability of IPv4 addresses continues to diminish.

The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) recently announced that the free pool of IPv4 addresses in the Asia Pacific region has effectively been exhausted.

The revised AGIMO strategy has all agencies IPv6 enabled by the end of 2012, a timeline that has also been adopted by neighbouring countries such as Malaysia.

Hill said the revised deadline demonstrates how the plan itself is a “living document” that continues to be reviewed annually taking into account technology advances, industry developments and lessons learned from similar implementations.

The financial implications of IPv6 will vary depending on how late in the game some businesses get started.

“The budget implications for organisations that started early will be much lower than those just starting now,” he said.

Organisations with business models heavily dependent on reaching a broad Internet audience, especially in the emerging mobile market, are also revising migration deadlines.

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Hill agrees IPv6 isn’t getting the level of attention it deserves because it is seen as an investment that delivers few benefits.

However, it does promise lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and should be recognised as a technology enabler that promotes innovation.

To promote the benefits of IPv6, Mr Hill's consultancy IPv6Now has been working with the Australian Industry Group and the Victorian government in the development of a virtual testbed known as Vic6.

It is a fully functioning IPv6 network for testing the compatibility of hardware and software.

While some organisations may struggle to build a business case for IPv6, for others it is a no brainer.

One such organisation is the Australian Department of Defence (DOD). Another drive for DOD to move away from IPv4 is the IPv6 mandate introduced by the United States government.

The benefits of migrating for DOD include uninterrupted interoperability and real time information sharing.

According to a Defence spokesperson IPv6 provides information sharing capabilities not possible on IPv4.

DOD began planning its migration as early as 2005 and will complete the transition by 2013.

A IPv6 Migration Checklist: Keeping it Simple
  • Pre-migration checklist
  • A stock take is required for equipment and applications
  • IPv6 capability should be included in all procurement
  • Training
  • Threat and risk assessment
  • Transition checklist
  • Upgrade hardware, operating systems, applications and ICT gateways so they are IPv6 ready
  • Ensure IPv6 capability has been certified to appropriate level of security
  • Ensure strategy is seamless
  • Undertake testing of hardware and software in ICT environment
  • Implementation Checklist
  • Once the organisation is IPv6 ready and meets certification, threat and risk assessments, it is time to coordinate and enable IPv6. Organisation should also be working with suppliers, customers and the market.
  • Finally, over time the replacement of anything that isn’t IPv6 capable will just be part of the refresh cycle.