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Connect-World’s eLetter December 2013 5th Dec 2013
Internet of IPv6 Things

We are all aware of the amazing success of the Internet. It is still growing fast in Asia and in the West, the ‘Internet-of-Things’ increases the mass of chattering machines many folds. That growth is now threatened by running out of IPv4 addresses, while the dawn of ‘Internet of IPv6 Things’ is still just a dawn.

Transforming IP networks is a daunting task, where everyone must chip in for the benefit of everyone else. Industry leaders urge service providers and enterprises to proceed with their migration. The trouble is that there is no real business case, and that the true benefits are realized only when everyone else have done their bit.

Service providers may be persuaded to install IPv6 to gain speed, since peer-to-peer IPv6 is much faster, so we are told. Consumers flock to services that are only just perceptibly faster. The trouble is that this is not happening unless there are no IPv4 conversions (or multiple of them) along the route. So content sites that upgrade to IPv6, are not guaranteed faster response time – no pay back.

Enterprises are slow to abandon the well-trusted IPv4 for no material gain. IPv6 migration projects are ‘always a bridesmaid – never a bride’ sort of projects. Organizations recognize the future need, but without a real business case, funding is not forthcoming. Ovum’s survey shows that not one enterprise has completed the migration in 2013. In time, they will migrate – piecemeal – when the equipment reaches end-of-life and needs to be replaced. No matter how well you sell this to them – it is a cost-only item, a nice-to-have at best.

These attitudes have been reinforced by vendors’ workaround solutions:

  • Dual-stack is enabling equipment to operate in both IPv4 and IPv6 modes. IPv6 must interwork with existing IPv4, for many years to come. So – if IPv4 is still compatible, what’s the rush?

  • IPv4 address re-distribution is a thriving black market, where unused IPv4 addresses are traded for increasingly higher prices. Those who have them are now richer, and those who have not – struggle. New entrant with free IPv6 addresses may not be reachable – so there is now a high price to enter the market.

  • Carrier-Grade NAT (CGN) is extending private network solution to the open Internet. NAT (Network Address Translation) translates one global address to several ‘private’ ones. At a large scale, this means that the Internet will be engineered by ISP, to enable routing to these multitudes of private addresses, while newcomers may not get a look-in.

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The combined effect of these solutions is to slow down progress, making the pay-back from IPv6 even further away. The effect is also to rob us of the Internet creativeness that inspired progress so far. The entry barrier for start-ups and innovators, who previously obtain addresses for free, is now raised. ISPs with CGN will carve up the Internet into artificial sections and routes, which leaves new IPv6 sites out of reach. It will frustrate location-based applications and limit TCP port availability (leading to broken applications links). The Internet should remain ‘stupid’. No one designs it, and no one controls it. With CGN, the ‘permissionless innovation’ that has brought us today’s rich variety, will no longer permeate the cyber-ways.

Yet, mass adoption is not happening – current IPv6 traffic is still less than one percent. Can these threats to our free-&-open Internet make an impression on hard-nosed budget keepers? Not a chance. Realistically, no project of this magnitude can be rolled out without a gradual introduction, and these maligned workaround solutions (dual-stack, re-distribution, Carrier-Grade NAT) actually enable a smoother transition. IPv6 is a complete network revamp – not just ‘a walk in the park’. The issues go beyond the technical ones – they are financial (e.g. waiting for financial writing-off for IPv4 assets), operational (e.g. re-training of engineers), organizational (e.g. centralizing network management under IPv6) and contractual (e.g. re-negotiating long-term contracts with an IPv4-only ISP). There are also management considerations: managing much larger address space needs a new IPAM (IP Address Management) system, and upgrades to existing OSS (Operation Support System) and NOC (network operations centre).

There is some good news too: IPv6 makes NATs management redundant, allowing direct and efficient connectivity. It simplifies routing and makes ISP prefixes a thing of the past. Multicast is easier, (with embedded rendezvous points), and moving to another Cloud is easier (subnet and host address remain the same). The Stateless Address Auto Configuration (SLAAC) feature enables IPv6 networks to configure themselves automatically. These are all useful advantages, yet they are not enough to persuade anyone to go for IPv6 ahead of equipment replacement.

There is one thing though… something to consider right away – IPv6 security. Those who are not rushing into IPv6 adoption may be startled to find that they are already at risk. Due to the gradual introduction of dual-stack in any new equipment, hackers can find their way to the unused IPv6 pathways, and bypass all the trusted old IPv4 security entirely. Due to the large address space, the old mechanisms of auditing are not practical. Instead, to track all live nodes (and discover free-riders), a combination of both automated scanning and network monitoring are needed.

In short, no one can afford to ignore IPv6, but with no real business case, no amount of evangelising is going to have any effect. Migration is rolled out through equipment aging cycles, and that is a slow process. Facing this task, end-user enterprises must be reassured that the vendors are well prepared with realistic solutions for the real issues, such as hybrid network management and hybrid network security, while charting IPv6-only fast routes for direct IPv6 routing. What will contribute more towards preserving the beautifully permissionless Internet is reducing costs of migration, while providing well-tested tools and procedures.

 

Rebecca Copeland

Rebecca Copeland
Editor
Connect-World Magazines
United Kingdom
Email: editor@connect-world.com
Web: www.connect-world.com
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