Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is here to stay. Though initially greeted with skepticism by most users who thought they had no real business or technical need to upgrade, there has been a rethink and as a result, many users have now started upgrading their IPv4 legacy infrastructure to IPv6.
That IPv4 was running out of addresses prompted the shift, but IPv6 brings with it its own unique advantages that make it imperative for businesses and application developers to migrate to the new model sooner than later.
IPv6 offers more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses or just about infinite number of addresses. What this means is that every single device can literally have its own unique public IP address. This makes it considerably easier to access individual devices through the public network, fuelling the scope for home automation, online gaming, file sharing, peer-to-peer programs and other applications in a big way, without having to undertake complex settings on the router.
Even without such enhanced possibilities, IPv6 promotes efficiency in its own right and improves the network speed. Hitherto, the scarcity of IPv4 numbers placed heavy reliance on Network Address Translation (NAT) wherein most users had just one IP address on the Internet and the router assigned IP addresses internally to the devices that attached to it. In such a setup, the router has to keep track of the traffic emanating from specific devices and translate the IP address from the internal one to the public one. IPv6 does away with such hassles and simplifies things considerably. And the end result? IP address conflicts, so common with NAT, become history. The freed-up router time is now spent better – for moving data.
The IPv6 protocol is inherently more secure than IPv4 as well. The IPv4 makers had no idea of the security threats faced by the Internet. IPv6, born in a time of grave security challenges, features in-built encryption and techniques that defeat packet spoofing. It comes with inbuilt Virtual Private Network (VPN)-like protection even for routine Internet traffic.
However, switching over to IPv6 is not as easy as switching a button on and off. Considerable challenges await both those who upgrade from IPv4 and new users.
The biggest challenge pertains to upgrading the hardware. Migration from IPv4 to IPv6 requires replacing all the existing residential gateways, cable modems, firewall, DSL equipment, etc. Homes and small businesses, many of whom never actually upgrade their hardware on a routine cycle, are the most hard-hit here. Even when upgraded hardware is available, technicians competent with the new hardware may be scarce.
Then there is the issue of missing operational experience. Technicians are familiar with the core issues and troubleshooting related to IPv4 while IPv6 requires reinventing the wheel in this regard. This calls for an urgent upgradation of management systems hitherto aligned with IPv4 to IPv6.
IPv4 co-exists with IPv6 and this co-existence would last a very long time. Bridging these two protocols is yet another challenge and raises the importance of dual stack services.