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IPv6: the future has arrived
August 2011, IT infrastructure in security

The advancement of Internet Protocol (IP) technology from the 32-bit IPv4 IP address version to that of IPv6 is a significant development in terms of global Internet use. South African users should understand the practicalities involved in preparing their networks for the changeover.

Service providers in this space also need to be aware of this development. The fact is that IPv6-based products are likely to have a longer service life than IPv4-based products.

The main reason for the current evolution from IPv4 to IPv6 is the severe depletion of the pool of unallocated IPv4 addresses—several regions of the world have already exhausted their allocation and remaining areas will soon follow suit within the next year or two.

This is serious because one of the critical differences between IPv4 and IPv6 is the number of available IP addresses. For example, there are 4,294,967,296 IPv4 addresses. In contrast, there are 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374, 607,431,768,211,456 IPv6 addresses.

Creating a supply of more addresses is necessary given the continuing, explosive growth worldwide of Web portals, consumer devices such as smartphones, and Web applications, especially in Asia, the world’s growth leader and the biggest manufacturer of IPv6-enabled devices.

There are a number of important issues businesses will have to consider as they prepare for a networking environment that will soon be predominantly IPv6-based.

For example, some devices that use IPv4-only software cannot support IPv6 without an upgrade. And if the hardware is particularly old, even memory and software upgrades will not provide the full support for IPv6 features. Furthermore, since IPv6 addresses are larger, they require more time to process by both hardware and software.

On the other hand, the technical functioning of the Internet remains the same with both versions and it is likely that both versions will continue to operate simultaneously in networks within networks well into the future.

Efficiency, simplicity and improved security

Efficiency and simplicity, improved security, and support for new services. IPv6 makes routing more efficient and hierarchical because it allows the reduction of the size of routing tables. In addition, IPv6’s simplified packet header makes packet processing smoother and more efficient, for example, because there is no IP-level checksum - the checksum does not have to be recalculated at each router hop.

IPv6 is also more efficient dealing with network bandwidth as it supports multicast packets rather than broadcast packets.

The result is disinterested hosts no longer have to process broadcast packets for bandwidth –heavy packet flows like multimedia streams. Another significant improvement is that address auto-configuration was built into IPv6 from the ground floor, thus greatly simplifying network configuration.

IPv6 delivers fundamentally stronger security because of the incorporation of the IP security protocol suite into IPv6 architecture. Specifically, IPSec, which provides authentication, confidentiality, and data integrity, is baked into IPv6. Previously, IPv4 ICMP packets would often be blocked by corporate firewalls due to their potential to carry malware. Now with IPv6 deployed, ICMPv6, the implementation of the Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv6, may be permitted because IPSec can be applied to the ICMPv6 packets, thus creating a more secure network.

The new version also removes Network Address Tables (NATs), allowing more seamless peer-to-peer interactions and a multitude of new business opportunities in fields as diverse as gaming and entertainment, inventory control and supply chain management, travel, transportation, and more.

Services such as VoIP and Quality of Service (QoS) become more robust once true end-to-end connectivity at the IP layer is restored, and when IPv6 is combined with IPTV, the potential to revolutionize how content is delivered to consumers is within grasp.

Coupling mobile IPv6 with GPS promises a similar creation of new services and opportunities. With no address space issues, globally-unique IP addresses can be assigned to virtually any object, allowing a whole new range of services, many which will rely on machine-to-machine communications at their foundation.

Key facts

* An IP address is the unique number that identifies a network connected device (computer, router port, switch port, etc,) on the Internet (for example, 128.111.200.3).

* Network administrators and other knowledgeable computer users can easily change IP addresses to be able to communicate with existing networks or follow hardware, unlike MAC (or physical) addresses which cannot be changed under normal circumstances.

* The Internet, as it is currently deployed, uses a 32-bit version of IP addresses. These addresses are now known as IPv4 to distinguish them from next generation IP addresses, which use a 128-bit version of IP addresses, IPv6.

* IPv6 is officially defined as a suite of protocols and standards developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

* To date, most networks that use IPv6 support both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses on their networks. In fact, several recent studies indicate IPv6 traffic counts for less than 5% of all Internet traffic today.

For more information contact Paul Luff, country manager, +27 (0)83 450 8920, Paul.Luff@smc.com


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