IPv6, the latest version of the Internet Protocol, is no longer a technology in need of a business case.
In the past I have not been very enthusiastic about IPv6. While the technology is superior to IPv4, there has not been a good business case to consider IPv6 on a large scale in the corporate world.
That might be about to change. Converged networks, intercompany extranets and network security are creating scenarios in which IPv6 might not only be the best technology, but also the best business decision.
The most-touted advantage of IPv6 always has been increased address space. While my previous view was that IPv4 private addressing and network address translation (NAT) provided more than enough addresses for most corporate implementations, the projected growth in converged networks could make that argument invalid in some cases. Converged networks would increase the amount of addresses needed. Additionally, increased inbound and outbound traffic would increase the load on NAT devices, which could create performance issues. As converged networks require low latency in order to provide acceptable voice quality, NAT devices could become network bottlenecks that affect voice service. IPv6 with its extended address space can eliminate or significantly reduce the need for NAT and provide for native transmission to the Internet. This will enhance the network's ability to provide high-quality inbound/outbound IP voice and video services.
Converged networks also would require effective quality-of-service (QoS) mechanisms to ensure that real-time traffic needs are met. IPv4 can provide these today via add-ons, but IPv6 can provide native QoS via the flow label. This IPv6 header field provides the ability to identify and prioritise packets belonging to specific flows. Because the flows are identified within the IPv6 header, prioritisation can be supported with IP Security data encryption - a task that is difficult with IPv4.
Increased interbusiness communication also is creating scenarios in which IPv6 could be the best value. Even in today's environment, implementing extranets with IPv4 private addressing can be challenging. If two companies use the same private address space in their internal networks, one will have to implement NAT to complete the connection. This can lead to increased costs and delayed implementations, which can put potential revenue or business growth at risk. IPv6 will increase the number of publicly registered addresses, thus eliminating the need for NAT in many circumstances and facilitating faster implementations of interbusiness connectivity.
Migrating to IPv6 does have drawbacks. Implementing IPv6 will require careful planning, a thorough review of the network's architecture and a detailed migration plan. Training will be needed for architectural and operational personnel, and interoperability with existing IPv4 implementations will need to be maintained for quite a while.
IPv4 will be around for a long time and will still be the protocol of choice for many implementations. However, as legacy equipment becomes fully depreciated and network upgrades can be financially justified, the potential benefits of IPv6 need to be considered to see if it has a role in the overall technology strategy.
Yoke is a business solutions engineer for a corporate network
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