With the unstoppable growth of IP-enabled devices, IPv6 has been on the minds of network administrators for years. The dramatic rise of PCs, phones, tablets, and embedded systems has overpowered IPv4’s tight, 32-bit address space. With the number of IPv4 addresses dwindling, IPv6, with its 128-bit address space, is more than ready to accommodate the next phase of device adoption and network evolution.
But what does the shift to IPv6 mean for network management as a whole? It may provide benefits in terms of security and device support, but it also presents challenges in terms of troubleshooting and infrastructure modernization.
One considerable benefit is that IPv6’s 128-bit address space means the number of possible IP addresses increases from a few billion with IPv4 to trillions upon trillions with IPv6. The actual number has 36 trailing zeros, which allows for virtually future-proof expansion. This simultaneously opens up breathing room for the growth of the Internet of Things—an emerging global phenomenon that could eventually encompass tens of billions of networked devices—and eliminates the need for complicated workarounds like Network Address Translation (NAT) that can cause issues in administration, troubleshooting, and security.
There are other key technical advantages to using IPv6 over IPv4, such as hierarchical addressing, mandatory IPsec-provided authentication and security, and improved ability to carry voice, video, and data. There are also useful simplifications for administrators, like direct end-to-end IPsec connections that do not depend on NAT. The hierarchical addressing in particular is an interesting change, since it may unlock new possibilities in settings like manufacturing plants.
“The movement to IPv6 on a global scale is inevitable,” explained William Wong for Electronic Design. “It has been more of an issue getting the infrastructure in place to make the move to cause the minimal number of problems. It is possible for IPv4 and IPv6 subnets to exchange traffic, but there are issues that vary depending upon the network configuration and the type of network traffic.”
Because of these infrastructure compatibility issues, IPv6 won’t replace IPv4 overnight. Instead, IPv6 will be phased in over years at most organizations. To ensure a smooth transition, network administrators must look for software that can help them with this shift, like Intermapper. Intermapper is a comprehensive network mapping tool that can help prepare for the transition to IPv6. It can scale to test thousands of devices across your network with its 64-bit support, and it supports critical IPv6 functionalities, including:
Related Content: IPv6 Transition Report
Although IPv6 is still relatively new, its adoption is accelerating. Google has long tracked the percentage of devices that access the company’s services via IPv6. Its tracker indicated that while 11 months passed between IPv6 going from one percent to two percent of all connections worldwide, only five months were needed for the total share to then rise to three percent.
That happened in early 2014. Later that year, the four percent threshold was reached; as of February 16, 2015, 5.15 percent of all IP-enabled devices accessing Google services were doing so via IPv6, indicating that the replacement of IPv4 is underway, even if only at a measured pace. In countries such as the United States and Germany, IPv6 adoption is higher than 13 percent, according to Google.
These numbers are impressive considering that for IPv6 to work, the computer, server, and all network appliances between them have to be IPv6-enabled, a setup that isn’t always possible and as such has held back the adoption of IPv6. Ars Technica has pegged IPv6’s share of all internet traffic at around 0.6 percent—not much, but up from 0.0026 percent in 2008. IPv6 traffic also grew fivefold year-over-year in 2012 and 2013. Overall, the slow transition to IPv6, while somewhat worrying due to IPv4’s increasingly obvious limitations, could be seen as an advantage for network engineers and IT departments that need time to manage the transition.
Amid these big changes to IP networking, some enterprises have deployed IPv6 on the network perimeter but maintained an IPv4-only network internally. This arrangement can cause issues when it comes to troubleshooting IPv6 connections, as well as keeping track of IPv6 network topologies, which, since they are relatively new, are often not as thoroughly diagrammed as their IPv4 equivalents. Maintaining that dual protocol environment can be difficult without having the proper tools in place.
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IPv6's technical feature set may seem purely beneficial to have, but it is actually essential due to the growing scarcity of usable IPv4 addresses. IPv6 will be necessary to accommodate the world’s social and economic growth. The spread of IP connectivity to more users and devices means that something simply has to give. That something is our traditional reliance upon IPv4.
Administrators overseeing this inevitable change can stay on top of everything with a tool like Intermapper, real-time network monitoring software. Intermapper provides the key functionality to support IPv4 and IPv6 environments. With Intermapper, users gain access to a powerful and intuitive tool that can manage both IPv4 and IPv6 environments. In addition to the IPv6-specific features outlined above, Intermapper contains:
IPv6 has already made significant inroads in enterprise networking. In order to plan for the day when IPv4 will have reached its threshold, the adoption of IPv6 is ultimately a matter of necessity rather than choice. Now is the time to ensure you have the proper tools in place to assist with this transition. Intermapper is the ideal software to help you manage the emerging IPv6 landscape and prepare for the future.
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