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June 10, 2011
ISPs have been investing significant time and resources to configure their networks for IPv6 adoption, moving beyond the current IP-addressing scheme of Internet Protocol version 4. In fact, this past Wednesday was World IPv6 Day. This transition is important for all Internet users, including indirect channel partners. To be sure, the move from IPv4 to IPv6 creates significant opportunities for engagement with network-equipment customers needing service and support. For example, you can provide professional services, redesign networks and replace equipment that does not support IPv6.
First, though, it is important to understand the need for IPv6. An IP address is similar to your phone number; the difference is, an IP address represents your computer address, and gets data to and from your computer and other IP-based networks, such as the Internet. However, as we have seen with phone numbers, IP addresses are running out as more devices become IP-based.
When the current mechanism for assigning IP addresses was developed, few people imagined that anyone beyond the academic, research and military communities the original denizens of the Internet would use the Web. But the explosive growth of the Net, and IP-reliant devices such as security cameras, TVs, DVD players and home appliances, has proven otherwise, resulting in the critical need for a more scalable addressing program. For years, an interim fix was to hide an IP assignment by using Network Address Translation (NAT), while experts researched how to deploy IPv6. NAT is similar to having a three- or four-digit extension rather than a separate 10-digit phone number. This temporary solution has helped the Internet community get by for about 15 years.
Now, however, the number of available IP addresses is quickly diminishing. Experts estimate that by mid-2012, the last of the addresses will be assigned. Of course, such assessments change daily and depend on each providers policies for handing out addresses to customers.
To put it in perspective, IPv4 contains 4.3 billion IP addresses; but because of routing and networking configurations, the ability to efficiently assign an IP address to every element is impossible. A good portion of available addresses is wasted due to design and routing restrictions. IPv6, on the other hand, can assign 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses. Or, put another way, theres the potential to assign a billion billion IP addresses for every square millimeter of the Earths surface. Clearly, we dont expect to run out of IPv6 addresses anytime soon.
Still, some ISPs, including PAETEC, have made significant efforts to insulate most customers from the absolute need to convert to IPv6, by masking their infrastructures and translating IPv4 addresses to IPv6 addresses. However, even with this method, it is still important for a business to carefully evaluate its options and infrastructure to understand how it will behave in the IPv6 world.
As agents, resellers, dealers and other partners talk with customers, be sure to emphasize that most of todays systems, software and network equipment support the new addressing standards, and allow enterprises to take advantage of native IPv6 addressing. Conversely, partners also have the opportunity to downplay the hype and hysteria that has sometimes surrounded the IPv6 transition, and show customers how to continue conducting business smoothly.
For partners, one of the key benefits of the IPv6 transition is teaming up with customers to thoroughly review and understand their network topologies. This will spotlight areas of the business that may have been long-neglected, even outside the direct conversation of IP addressing schemes. For example, you can examine old software and pinpoint vulnerabilities in systems and routers. You can analyze security policies. All of this lets you introduce customers to contemporary security products, and talk about why switching to cloud services may be best. Indeed, as the IPv6 transition gains steam, the timing for collaboration and network improvement has never been more appropriate.
Sanjay Hiranandani is PAETECs chief technology officer. He has been working on the IPv6 issue for more than 12 years.
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