The worldwide changeover of IP addresses to the new version 6 affects every company that is on the Internet. Those who act in good time avoid disruptions and gain a competitive advantage.
All communication on the Internet and in other networks depends on the information and data actually ending up where they belong. Internet protocol version 4 – IPv4 for short – has ensured this for over thirty years. It is, so to speak, the common language of all systems networked on the Internet, the basis of digital communication: Each individual device – whether computer, smartphone or server – receives a clearly assignable IP address, which ensures a smooth exchange of data, whether you are surfing on websites, Sent emails or communicated via social media.
Why is the growth of the internet becoming a problem?
However, the success of the Internet, its rapid growth and the increasing number of networked devices have become a problem for the previous standard: The number of available IP addresses is simply no longer sufficient. Already a year ago, in autumn 2012, the European allocation organization RIPE began to allocate the last available address ranges.
The solution to the problem is IPv6. The successor version of IPv4 multiplies the number of possible addresses from around four billion to around 340 sextillion – a number with 36 zeros. In addition, IPv6 improves the transmission quality of audio and video data and increases security in the network through the integration of encryption and authentication functions. The challenge here: IPv4 and IPv6 are not compatible! The structure of the addresses is fundamentally different; there will be communication difficulties between network devices of the old and new standards.
Many IT managers and administrators – regardless of whether they are medium-sized or large corporations – still haven’t got the issue of IPv6 on the proverbial screen or do not consider it urgent. An attitude that will lead to difficulties in the medium term.
Problems in the parallel operation of IPv6 and IPv4
The introduction of IPv6 has long since begun: Most of the information is still available in both standards in parallel so that it can still be accessed by everyone. Currently, however, more and more regional and national Internet providers are converting their access servers completely to IPv6. For devices that rely on IPv4, only transition mechanisms will then be offered. And the non-European growth markets, above all Asia, where clients or suppliers are often located, are expanding their IT infrastructure exclusively in IPv6.
What does that mean in practice? Even now, data traffic can sometimes get stuck! An example: An IPv6 data packet arrives at its own, not yet converted, IPv4 server. Either it is classified as unknown and rejected, or it passes through the company’s own firewall unchecked due to communication difficulties. Both are highly undesirable. In the first case, for example, the online ordering system cannot be reached, or an important email does not reach the recipient. In the second case, there is even a security breach that endangers the entire company network.
Check your own network infrastructure as soon as possible
IPv4 will remain active and usable in parallel with the new protocol for a few years – transition technologies and the purchase of addresses that are becoming available make this possible – but costs will rise and the quality of use will decrease. Ultimately, however, updating the company’s own network infrastructure to IPv6 cannot be avoided.
Experts rate the effort in the IT departments as high as when the Euro was introduced in 2002. Unlike back then, however, a system changeover from one day to the next is unnecessary in the case of IPv6. If you start in time, you can act step by step; the costs are included in the budget planning in good time. Companies should first check which of their existing components are IPv6-capable. Current standard software is mostly already set to the new standard. However, it is particularly important to focus on individually developed network software and hardware. There may be pitfalls here.
That helps with the implementation of the switch from IPv4 to IPv6
However, in many companies, especially in small and medium-sized companies, the necessary expertise is missing or the personnel capacities are already exhausted. Then external specialists for network security and availability can help. You know where to look specifically for weak points when evaluating existing systems.
They also support the planning and implementation of restructuring in finding economical and long-term future-proof solutions, and make their own employees fit for handling IPv6 with practice-oriented training courses. In addition to the smooth transfer of the previous structures to IPv6, the aim should also be to be able to use the improved protocol properties of the new system optimally for one’s own IT infrastructure.
The judgment of independent experts is also useful when it comes to evaluating your own Internet provider. Because more and more business processes are being handled over the web; especially cloud solutions are established. Those who do not currently rely on such techniques may see things very differently in a short time. Without a modern infrastructure with IPv6-capable systems on the part of the provider, nothing works.
Anyone who already develops a conscious strategy for the consistent IT conversion to IPv6 will gain a decisive technological advantage – and thus secure a considerable competitive advantage.