IPv6 Day 2012 - What Does It Mean?

IPv6 Day 2012 is just a day away on June 6. For those just getting up to speed, here’s the back story. IPv6 Day started in 2011 when over a thousand major website hosting organizations and ISPs -- including Google, Facebook, Akamai, and Yahoo -- got together in order to execute a global ‘test flight’ of IPv6 over the course of several days. This helped them expose a number of potential issues involved with a full implementation of IPv6, in addition to allowing them to take the new protocol for a spin, and prepare for the inevitable shift. Last year’s experiment went without any major hiccups and we also discovered that IPv4 and IPv6 are capable of playing nice with one another- a rather important factor in implementing the new protocols. After 24 hours of testing, the organizations shifted their websites and services back to the old standard.

This year, they’ll be switching over again…but this time, they won’t be switching back. With that in mind, it isn’t difficult to see why June 6 is a rather important day.  We’re pretty much about to witness history in the making, in a manner of speaking.

Since IPv6 Day 2011, all the organizations involved have been busying themselves getting their content delivery networks and services primed and ready for the big day.  One question remains- how will the global launch of IPv6 change the Internet as we know it? What effect will it have on how people browse? How will it revolutionize security and connectivity?

The first thing you need to know about World IPv6 day is that the distribution of IPv6 is going to be neither immediate nor incredibly widespread- at least, not at first. Many businesses are thoroughly committed to the idea of implementing IPv6 over IPV4…but the trouble is, not all of their customers can handle the new standard. Take Time Warner Cable and Comcast, for example, who both revealed that 30% of their consumers use Windows XP, which isn’t IPv6 ready out of the box, and  another 70% use routers that have no support for IPv6.  With this in mind, it should be clear that the advent of IPv6 doesn’t mean IPV4 is going to simply be tossed by the wayside- far from it.

Ultimately, the goal that’s been set for World IPv6 day is for organizations to shift 1% of their worldwide consumer base from IPV4 over to IPv6. It may seem minor, but given how many consumers are still using older hardware and software…it’s actually a rather ambitious objective.

IPv6’s launch will undoubtedly modernize a number of midmarket networks, writes Chris Crum of Netpro News, and will most definitely be a big deal for enterprise organizations- both within and without of the tech industry. Even in light of this, it’s going to be a very subtle shift.

So, we’ve addressed users, networking, and co-existence with IPV4. Now it’s time to take a look at the elephant in the room- network security.

We’ve already discussed at length some of the benefits of IPv6, and tackled a number of myths regarding the new protocol. Perhaps one of the most prevalent myths, if you’ll recall, regarded the labyrinthine dinosaur that was Network Address Translation. While the launch of IPv6 might not signify the de facto death of NAT, it will signify the slow fade of the translation protocol into obscurity. Ultimately, as we’ve detailed already, this will carry with it considerable benefits for the ‘net.

These include easier implementation of IPsec, smoother infrastructure, automatic encryption of all IPv6 network data, and integrated support for mobile. Of course, the IPv6 launch isn’t without its fair share of pitfalls, either. Ideally, we’d want IPv6 to have a smooth, instantaneous implementation- with everybody using high-encryption, high-security networking systems, and tossing the outdated IPV4 to the wayside.

As with most situations, in reality, things get much…messier.

If anything, we might actually see things getting even more complex for a while as a result of IPv6’s implementation, and as organizations turn to a wide array of technologies in order to bridge the gap between the two suites, fragmentation might rear its ugly head. It’s easy to see how this could end up becoming even more complex than what we’ve currently got in place, and how this could easily lead to misconfigured networking systems and a whole new plethora of security risks- to say nothing of some of the currently applicable exploits (such as router impersonation) and other security risks that might surface as we begin the transition.

Even so, IPv6 should be seen as a net positive for the Internet- and for network security, and IPv6 day should be something we’re looking forward to, rather than dreading. After all, it’ll eventually prove to be a giant leap forward for both Internet technology and network security, and completely eliminates the IP address exhaustion issue.

For the time being, though...rather than a giant leap, we’re taking baby steps.