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Chances are, if you follow activities in the Internet space, you have heard about IPv6 in the past few months to a year. While IPv6 has been around since the mid-90s, very few people or companies have worked with it until recently. Before we dive into IPv6, let’s take a look at the history of the Internet, and how we got here.

TCP/IP was developed in the 1970s as an alternative method of communications for military networks that provided greater flexibility and survivability. It was deployed into a research network (the ARPANET) in the early/mid 1980s, and has morphed over time to become the Internet we all know and love today. When the researchers initially developed TCP/IP, they could not foresee how that it would grow to become one of the most used and ubiquitous communication systems on the planet.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was established in 1986 to provide a forum for government, education and industry to collaborate in developing standards for the Internet. By the early 1990s, the IETF determined that the rate of IP addresses being deployed was growing exponentially, and there was a real possibility of running out of IPv4 address space in the late 1990s. In order to avert this catastrophe, the IETF launched an effort called IP next generation (IPng) to come up with the next version of the IP, which eventually was called IPv6. (If you are wondering, IPv5 was an experimental protocol and was never widely deployed.) IPv6 was adopted by the IETF in late 1995, and has been continually updated with new additions since.

At the same time IPng was being developed, two IP address conservation initiatives were launched called Classless Internet Domain Routing (CIDR) and Network Address Translation (NAT). The combination of these conservation initiatives extended the life of IPv4 for close to two decades, however, one of the side effects created from NAT was the loss of end-to-end connectivity across the Internet. This has had a profound change in the way networks are deployed and managed today.

Now fast forward to February 2011, when the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body responsible for the global pool of IP addresses, allocated the last remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses to the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). There are five RIRs across the world whose job is to provide IPv4 addresses to service providers and users in their region. This means that the pool of publically routable IPv4 addresses have been exhausted and each RIR has a small amount of addresses remaining and once those are allocated there will not be any more available.

While the primary purpose of IPv6 was to extend the availability of IP addresses, the IETF took the chance to add improvements to the IP protocol based on lessons learned from the previous decade of use. IPv6 includes many advantages such as integrated security protocols, more robust multicast capabilities, streamlined headers, the use of Anycast and the concept of extension headers to allow for future growth and flexibility.

One of the primary challenges with the deployment of IPv6 is that it is not backwards compatible with IPv4. They are two completely different protocols that do not interoperate or even interact directly with each other. The good news is that you can run both IPv6 and IPv4 on the same networks and even the same device interfaces without complications. When IPv6 was developed in the mid-1990s it was assumed that it would take a decade to completely phase out IPv4, but with new IP address conservation techniques, this would not be a problem. The preferred transition path was using what is called dual-stack where devices would run both IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time until IPv6 was widely enough deployed that IPv4 could be phased out. Unfortunately, the deployment of IPv6 has been slow and now that IPv4 addresses are close to complete exhaustion, the transition will become more challenging.

On June 8, 2011, the Internet Society (ISOC) sponsored a global IPv6 test flight where some of the largest content providers came together to turn on IPv6 over a 24-hour period. More than 1,000 content providers participated including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks. This allowed users and website operators to try IPv6 on a global scale to understand the potential impact and issues that could arise. The day was uneventful, which meant it was a complete success. The only problem that occurred was that many of the website operators turned off IPv6 at the end of the day.

Recently, on June 6th, 2012, the ISOC followed up World IPv6 Day with World IPv6 Launch. This differed from the previous test flight in a couple of key ways. First, it expanded the participation from just website operators to include network operators and home routing vendors. To participate in World IPv6 Launch website operators had to agree to turn on IPv6 on their primary domains and leave it on permanently. Network operators had to agree to enable new customers with IPv6 by default and enable at least 1% of their existing subscribers. Home router vendors had to commit to adding IPv6 to their home routing line. Participation was high with over 3,000 website operators, almost 80 network operators and 5 home routers vendors taking part, including Akamai, AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, D-Link, Facebook, Google, Limelight Networks, Microsoft Bing, Time Warner Cable, and Yahoo!.

The bottom line–IPv6 is a reality; it is here and it is ready for prime time.

Don’t forget to read our Tech Tips on Understanding the IPv6 protocol header, IPv6 addressing and IPv6 transition mechanisms. Each provides a little different insight into understanding IPv6.

Safari Books Online has the content you need

Check out these IPv6 books available from Safari Books Online:

IPv6 is replacing IPv4 to dominate the networking world. This deployment guide will enable you to fully harness the power of IPv6. IPv6 Deployment Guide is a “must have” reference for IT/Networking professionals and students!

Get the in-depth technical information you need to put IPv6 technology into practice—and learn how the protocol relates to the next releases of Windows® and Windows Server®. Written by a networking expert, Understanding IPv6, Third Edition details IPv6 from its features and benefits to its packet structure and protocol processes. You’ll learn how IPv6 works and how to use its built-in services in your network deployments.
As the world’s networks migrate to the IPv6 protocol, networking professionals need a clearer understanding of the security risks, threats, and challenges this transition presents. In IPv6 Security, two of the world’s leading Internet security practitioners review each potential security issue introduced by IPv6 networking and present today’s best solutions. IPv6 Security offers guidance for avoiding security problems prior to widespread IPv6 deployment. The book covers every component of today’s networks, identifying specific security deficiencies that occur within IPv6 environments and demonstrating how to combat them. The authors describe best practices for identifying and resolving weaknesses as you maintain a dual stack network. Then they describe the security mechanisms you need to implement as you migrate to an IPv6-only network. The authors survey the techniques hackers might use to try to breach your network, such as IPv6 network reconnaissance, address spoofing, traffic interception, denial of service, and tunnel injection.
IP address depletion has been talked about for years: now it has finally happened. There are no new IP address blocks to be had. Now network administrators need to do what they’ve put off for years: understand IPv6 and make the transition. Planning for IPv6 shows you how to plan your transition to IPv6.
Migrating Applications to IPv6 will help application developers, product managers, architects and others understand what they need to do to ensure their application works well with IPv6.
Mobile IPv6 has become the key enabling technology for mobile data and multimedia services and devices worldwide (i.e., cellular systems, VoIP handovers over LAN, multi-access network handovers, location privacy, enterprise mobile networking, etc.). Mobile IPv6 covers the IPv6 host mobility protocol known as “mobile IPv6” and begins with a basic description of mobile IPv6 and then details protocol specifications and data structures as well as actual implementation. A sample configuration for a real Mobile IPv6 operation is provided at the end of the book. Source code will be downloadable form a companion website.

About this author

Dale Geesey (CISSP/PMP) is a security, networking and IT professional with over 20 years of experience working in the federal and carrier community. His primary focus is on IPv6, Cyber Security, Health IT and next generation technologies. He has been supporting Government and commercial IPv6 Transition activities since 2004. Specializing in the introduction of advanced and next generation technologies, he has supported numerous technology efforts for government organizations including VA, DoD, Army, SBA, DISA, NSA, SBA, Navy, NIST, OMB, FBI, and NATO. Dale is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Auspex Technologies.

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