June 6, 2012, marked a milestone in the further advancement of the Internet: World IPv6 Launch Day. It was by no means an Earth-shattering event or a "flag day" where everyone switched over to IPv6 completely ... What actually happened was that content providers enabled AAAA DNS records for their websites and other applications, and ISPs committed to providing IPv6 connectivity to at least 1% of their customers by this date.
What's all of this fuss about the IPv6 transition about? The simplest way to explain the situation is that the current Internet can stay working as it does, using IPv4 addresses, forever ... if we're okay with it not growing any more. If no more homes and businesses wanted to get on the Internet, and no more new phones or tablets were produced, and no more websites or applications were created. SoftLayer wouldn't be able to keep selling new servers either. To prevent or lose that kind of organic growth would be terrible, so an alternative had to be created to break free from the limitations of IPv4.
The long-term goal is to migrate the entire Internet to the IPv6 standard in order to eliminate the stifling effect of impending and inevitable IP address shortages. It is estimated that there are roughly 2.5 billion current connections to the Internet today, so to say the transition has a lot of moving parts would be an understatement. That complexity doesn't lessen the urgency of the need to make the change, though ... In the very near future, end-users and servers will no longer be able to get IPv4 connections to the Internet, and will only connect via IPv6.
The primary transition plan is to "dual-stack" all current devices by adding IPv6 support to everything that currently has an IPv4 address. By adding native IPv6 functionality to devices using IPv4, all of that connectivity will be able to speak via IPv6 without transitional technologies like NAT (Network Address Translation). This work will take several years, and time is not a luxury we have with the dwindling IPv4 pool.
Like George mentioned in a previous post, I see World IPv6 Launch day as a call-to-action for a "game changer." The IPv6 transition has gotten a ton of visibility from some of the most recognizable names on the Internet, but the importance and urgency of the transition can't be overstated.
So, what does that mean for you?
To a certain extent, that depends on what your involvement is on the Internet. Here are a few steps everyone can take:
- Learn all you can about IPv6 to prepare for the work ahead. A few good books about IPv6 have been published, and resources like ARIN's IPv6 Information Wiki are perfect places to get more information.
- If you own servers or network equipment, check them for IPv6 functionality. Upgrade or replace any software or devices to ensure that you can deliver native IPv6 connectivity end-to-end without any adverse impact to IPv6 users. If any piece of gear isn't IPv6-capable, IPv6 traffic won't be able to pass through your network.
- If you are a content provider, make your content available via IPv6. This starts with requesting IPv6 service from your ISP. At SoftLayer, that's done via a zero-cost sales request to add IPv6 addresses to your VLANs. You should target 100% coverage for your services or applications — providing the same content via IPv6 as you do via IPv4. Take an inventory of all your DNS records, and after you've tested extensively, publish AAAA records for all hostnames to start attracting IPv6 traffic.
- If you are receiving Internet connectivity to your home or business desktops, demand IPv6 services from your upstream ISP. Also be sure to check your access routers, switches and desktops to ensure they are running the most recent code with stable IPv6 support.
- If you are running equipment such as firewalls, load balancers, IDS, etc., contact your vendors to learn about their IPv6 support and how to properly configure those devices. You want to make sure you aren't limiting performance or exposing any vulnerabilities.
Starting now, there are no more excuses. It's time to get IPv6 up and running if you want to play a part in tomorrow's Internet.