Most veteran IT types (including me) are leery when it comes to any kind of change; even thinking about converting networks to IPv6 seems like a bone-chilling bad dream. In order to make the transformation (sorry, it’s coming) easier, I’d like to initiate a dialogue about Internet Protocol version six (IPv6). My ultimate goal is to help everyone (me too) feel comfortable with IPv6.
I’m in a bit of a dilemma though. Where should I begin? I’d really like to hear what you’re concerned about and what you’d like to see covered?First some history
Right now, Internet Protocol version four (IPv4) is the dominant (IETF approved standard) Internet protocol. Meaning IPv4 is the common digital electronic language our computers use to communicate on the Internet. IPv4 is a data-oriented protocol that's specific to packet switched networks (e.g., Ethernet). It’s a best-effort protocol, meaning there’s no guarantee of delivery or correctness of the data. That’s handled by Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which is defined along with IP in the Internet Protocol Suite. In simple terms, TCP and IP are the Internet protocols that do the same thing as snail mail addressing.Why IPv6?
Initially, IPv6 was developed simply because there aren't enough addresses (IP addresses to be exact) available using IPv4. If you are interested, the exact number of IP addresses using IPv4 is 2 to the power of 32, or 4,294,967,296. That may seem like a bunch, but most experts agree that the amount of IP addresses available in IPv4 will run out by 2010. That prediction is partially based on the fact that there are 6.7 billion (6,720,539,678) people inhabiting our planet right now, and a large percentage of them will be needing at least one IP address.
In comparison, IPv6 has 2 to the power of 128, or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 available IP addresses. To gain a perspective on that, IPv6 allows each of the 6.7 billion people alive today the option of having 2 to the power of 95, or 39,614,081,257,132,168,796,771,975,168 IP addresses. I suspect that many addresses should be enough for a while.Ancillary benefits of IPv6
Like most version upgrades, IPv6 eliminates several negative components that have been uncovered in IPv4. Just to whet everyone’s appetite, some of the enhancements are:
- Auto-configuration of IP addresses is substantially less complicated.
- Route aggregation and the ability to have several levels of hierarchy are now possible.
- IPv6 requires end-to-end security (IPsec), a huge improvement since IPv4 has no inherent security.
- Management traffic is more streamlined and robust.
These improvements may not sound like much, but they are when you look at them closer. I’d like to save the explanations until later when we get into the specific details, and that’s only if you’re interested in knowing those details.What to cover?
I’ve just touched the surface as to what IPv6 will bring to the table. IPv6 will also require a whole new way of thinking about IP addresses and the Internet Protocol itself. I’ve started the following list of topics that seem important to me:
- How are IPv4 and IPv6 similar?
- How are IPv4 and IPv6 different?
- What makes IPv6 better?
- What is IPsec and is it secure enough?
- How does the new IP addressing scheme work?
- What will it take to transition to IPv6?
I’m sure there are more topics to discuss, and that’s where I’d like your help. Please let me know what should and shouldn’t be covered.Final thoughts
IPv6 is very important, yet it’s relatively unknown and potentially a very boring subject. I’ve read countless articles and white papers about IPv6, and most are gibberish. With your help, I’d like to try and do it right, that way we all will have a better grasp of what’s in store for us.
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Michael Kassner is currently a systems manager for an international company. Together with his son, he runs MKassner Net, a small IT publication consultancy.