Are you ready for the future? What IT managers need to know about IPv6 today

The depletion of free IPv4 addresses took the media by storm over the last month as IANA officially issued its last /8s. People are scurrying around like Chicken Little proclaiming, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling!” Well take a deep breath, sit back and focus. This isn’t the end of the world or a time to panic; it’s a time to plan and prepare for the inevitable.

Whether you realize it or not, you probably already have IPv6 traffic on your network. Not learning how to effectively deploy, manage and secure this traffic would be a huge mistake.

While migration to IPv6 won’t happen overnight, it’s time for you to get your brain focused on all things related to it and come up with a plan to ensure that you are able to roll everything out smoothly.

Plan for tomorrow, today!

First and foremost, you are going to need to educate yourself on the technology and get into full-blown learning mode. There are numerous classes and seminars that will get you ahead of the curve quickly; this will provide you with the basis you need to fully understand the technologies around IPv6 and how to manage them correctly. One of my favorite events is the Rocky Mountain IPv6 Summit.

Some people like to read books to learn, and a couple of good ones are IPv6 Essentials and IPv6 Security. In addition to reading, I find that I learn best when I just jump in and sort of force myself to swim.

This is a good time to brush up on your fundamentals. I come across my fair share of network engineers who have been getting by without really understanding the underlying technologies. When you decide to start migrating to or adding IPv6 to your network, you really need to have the proper fundamentals first or you will be headed for some really tough times.

What do you have?

The next step is an essential one; you need to conduct an audit. You should have a good idea what you already have on the network, but it’s always good to recheck your hardware and software on a regular basis. It’s essential to know what you already have that is IPv6 compliant and what isn’t. If you attempt to make the move straight over to IPv6 without evaluating, you are not only wasting your time, but could bring down your data center like a house of cards.

Once you complete the audit, you can begin upgrading. For me, I know that I learn best by doing, so you should roll up your sleeves and start working with what you have learned. We already know that we will be faced with a hybrid solution that will be a marriage of IPv4 and IPv6 within our own networks. You should set up test beds within your own network and start migrating a few things into a joint IPv4/IPv6 or “dual stack” solution. You spend some good quality time under the hood in a closed environment and it should become second nature in no time.

Start rolling it out!

A great place to start investigating your IPv6 capabilities is within DNS, as we know it’s one of the core technologies that every network engineer should understand and it won’t do you much good to bring IPv6 addresses into your network if you can’t resolve them to names and vice versa.

Another great place to deploy an early IPv6 network is a “management network” or “telemetry network,” as we used to call them in the old days. Network Address Translation (NAT) can be a real burden when it comes to monitoring devices in duplicate or overlapping address ranges, so this may be a great place for you to start moving to IPv6.

Now that those steps have been completed, it’s time to find a good management solution that understands IPv4, IPv6 and dual-stack environments. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t made a conscious decision to deploy IPv6 that it isn’t already there, as many devices and operating systems are shipping with IPv6 enabled by default. If you’re not managing it closely, you could be opening yourself up to all kinds of vulnerabilities.

So while the sky isn’t falling yet, if you don’t start learning everything you need to know to migrate to IPv6 and manage hybrid solutions, it really could be in the near future!

Josh Stephens is Vice President of Technology – a.k.a. the Head Geek – at SolarWinds where he plays an integral part in the development and delivery of award-winning network management products. Josh has extensive experience in network management systems, network engineering, and software development. His 15-plus years of experience in technology includes designing and deploying advanced networks and network management systems within organisations including the US Air Force, Sprint, MCI/UUNET, and Wal-Mart. Josh was the very first SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) and has received numerous other industry certifications including those from Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and HP.