IPv6: Most Organisations Are “Blissfully Unaware” Of The Implications

IPv6

At present, the internet is mainly running using IP version 4 (IPv4), but this is soon to change as IPv4 address space is rapidly running out. As it stands, there aren’t enough free addresses to meet demand beyond the end of this year and even that would be a stretch.

As it has now been confirmed that the 6th of June will be the date of the switch to IPv6 and the last remaining IPv4 addresses have already been allocated, companies need to plan their move now. But this requires planning ahead – and making progress towards the transition now.

Yet, the British Computing Society (BCS) has said that most organisations are ‘blissfully unaware’ of the implications of the change to IPv6 and the steps they need to take to make sure that their businesses are still visible to the outside world over the new protocol.

The switch to IPv6 is a long procedure that will affect the fundamental parts of most organisations’ processes, including applications for email, payroll and supply chain management. A number of elements need to be considered – including reconfiguring the entire network infrastructure right from the start of the deployment. There are a number of differences between IPv4 and IPv6 that need to be considered and a simple switch over just won’t work.

In fact, CIOs need to address a whole host of things that are generally taken for granted in existing IPv4 environments, but will fail to work once IPv6 is in place. This is particularly important for user network access policies and firewalls, which both need to be reconfigured in advance.

There is a great deal to take in, so here are a few steps IT managers and project teams from across all organisations, whether private or public sector, should consider before making the switch. These will not only help to minimise the pain and the cost, but will also make sure that your business performs as successfully – if not more so – on IPv6 as it currently does on IPv4.

Think about security

When you make the transition, you will have to reconfigure your firewall. This is of utmost importance. After all, if you leave your firewall open, then you are susceptible to a breach. As IPv6 has been designed with improved communication in mind, all devices – whether an iPhone, tablet, laptop or PC – could have access to data that shouldn’t be leaving the office building. Risks could also be introduced at the protocol level so the compatibility of the entire network infrastructure, plus software and patching must be up to date.

Make sure the whole world can communicate with you via email

Does your messaging platform support IPv6? The way your company has email set up will have an effect on its approach to the transition. The compatibility for those who host their email on site will depend on the provider they use. For example, Microsoft Exchange 2007 and 2010 both have good IPv6 support when run on Windows Server 2008, while Zimbra does not yet officially support the new protocol.

If in doubt, ask your provider. Meanwhile, if your company has a hosted email platform, then making your email visible over IPv6 is a responsibility that lies with your service provider. As with websites and internet service providers (ISPs), if they are not looking to provision IPv6 in the near future you may need to look into working with providers who are.

Investigate whether or not your current network provider offers IPv6 capabilities

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it will help them to realise that there is a demand for IPv6 that needs to be met, and secondly, it will help you decide whether or not you should be looking to work with a more capable network provider who can give you the consultancy and support needed to successfully make the transition.

Consider outsourcing the hosting of your website and key applications to a specialist who can make it available over IPv6, rather than IPv4. If you don’t already outsource your website, then outsourcing to a specialist might be an option to make the transition smoother (and it has a number of other benefits!) However, should you wish to keep your hosting on-site, you will need to configure your web server to serve IPv6 traffic as well as IPv4.

Enlighten the business

All companies need to make the switch, whether they operate in the technology space or not, and for this reason all CEOs will have received a letter about the change. The network will affect everyone across the company, and, although the move is likely to be seamless, letting them know what’s going on will get them to be more patient in light of any small issues.

These are the first steps ensuring a smooth roll-out. With help, implementing the new protocol is simple, but there are clear risks, especially bearing in mind compatibility and security issues. Even the UK Government has seen the importance of a well thought-out changeover and will be making sure that everyone plays their part to make sure that the move is flawless. After all, the internet is inevitably expanding and businesses can help it grow by moving with the times. As long as they fully consider all aspects of the switch, they can successfully move over and safely stay fully communicative.

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Nigel Titley has been involved with the Internet since the early nineties when he was part of the team that designed and launched BTnet, the BT Internet product. Prior to that he had run some of the first IP networks in the UK, linking several of BT’s development sites over the newly launched 64K kilostream service. When BT entered the ISP market, it became apparent that peering within the UK was going to be vital to keep costs and latency with acceptable limits so he, together with four others, founded the London Internet Exchange (LINX), on whose board he sat for twelve years. Later on he was elected to the board of the RIPE NCC, the body which distributes IP resources in Europe and the Middle East, and four years ago was elected Chairman. Last year he helped launch 6::UK, a government sponsored body to encourage the take up of Ipv6 within the UK and has since given several talks to various audiences explaining the urgent need for the UK to embrace the new IPv6 protocol. He is a member of the IET, the ACM, the IEEE and in 2008 was the first recipient of the LINX Conspicuous Achievement award.