IPv6 and what you need to do to prepare

As you may know, today is IPv6 day – where major technology players like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, Cisco and others will take part in a 24-hour test flight of the next generation Internet protocol. This exercise is to gauge how smooth or pain-riddled the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 will be.

IP addresses are unique numbers received by every device that connects to the Internet (or a private network), so that those devices can communicate with other devices on the same network. Websites and email domains (for instance, the @example.com part of an email address) also have associated IP addresses.

This addressing system is known as Internet Protocol and is currently at version 4; hence IPv4. We’ve been using IPv4 addresses since the early 1980s. There was a finite amount of IPv4 addresses available, however, and they have now been exhausted.

IPv4 uses a system of numbers, typically separated by decimals, that even casual users of the Internet would probably recognize (if you are unsure, check your computer or phone’s network settings for numbers like “192.162.2.235”).IPv4 had about 4.3 billion addresses, which ran out more rapidly once mobile devices with Internet connections became commonplace.

Now all new Internet addresses will use IPv6, a system that has more numbers and characters, and is said to have enough spots for 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique IP addresses. Equipment that uses IPv6 has been in use since 1999.

Although IPv6 has been available since the ’90s, not many companies, ISPs, or other organizations have implemented it. Most are still on IPv4. That is changing, though, as governments, corporations, ISP, and MSOs (Multiple System Operators) map out their plans to transition. Of course, the likely scenario is that many networks will run both IPv4 and IPv6 in tandem (called dual-stacking) for a while until IPv6 becomes the standard.

Home users and small business owners should not have too much to worry about: chances are your ISP or the provider hosting your Web site or domain will ensure your transition to IPv6 is fairly seamless—it’s the larger enterprises that have to be more proactive. No matter the size of your business, however, you should contact your ISP or Web-hosting service to find out what their plans are for IPv6.

While there should be no panic about the fact that the world has officially run out of IPv4 addresses, vigilance is a best practice, especially for small business owners. But even home users can take precautions to ensure that their home networks are ready for what is most likely to be a gradual transition.

There are three main areas a small business should focus on in preparing for IPv6: email, web servers and Domain Name Servers (DNS). Many small businesses are using hosted services for all three. If that is the case with your small business, check with your hosting provider to ensure they are IPv6 ready. Many of the larger hosting providers are participating in testing today, so follow-up with them to check their results.

For businesses that locally host and manage their email, web servers and DNS:

  • Adding native IPv6 to existing web servers: Configure IPv6 on the Web server itself (Apache, Microsoft’s IIS, and most other modern Web servers have supported IPv6 for several years) as well as on the load balancers. This is the clean and efficient way to do it, but some applications or scripts running on the Web servers may need some code change (notably if they use, manipulate, or store the remote IP address of their clients).
  • Adding IPv6 support to email: The sending and receiving of email over the Internet occurs through Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) atop TCP. Most popular Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs) are fully capable of using IPv6. However, some of the support functions now common in these servers are not yet present for IPv6. This includes blacklisting and reputation services notably used for antispam. When more traffic, and hence more spam, moves to IPv6, these tools can be expected to become available. Check with the vendor of any of the security tools you use in conjunction with your email platform about their plans for support.
  • IPv6 information in DNS: Add the IPv6 addresses of all public servers in the DNS database. This is simply done by adding specific Resource Records (RRs) with the IPv6 address (those records are called AAAA). Cisco also advises adding the reverse mapping of IPv6 addresses to Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDNs). For dual-stack servers, there are two RRs per FQDN: one IPv4 address (type A) and one IPv6 address (type AAAA). For organizations using major DNS server implementations which include ISC BIND, Cisco Network Registrar and Microsoft DNS Server, rest assured, these systems have supported IPv6 for several years.

During the next 6 months, we will start the process of instituting IPv6 on all our systems and our client’s systems.

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About SCB Enterprises
System Solutions and Integration

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