Axel Pawlik

Need to know: IPv6 explained

According to the Office for National Statistics, SME’s make up 99.9 percent of the total number of businesses in the UK; providing 59.1 percent of all private sector jobs and generating 48.7 percent of total
public sector turnover. In today’s technology driven environment, to succeed, businesses need to remain up-to-date with the latest technology. The Internet plays a critical role in business operations and as such, with the impending transition of IPv4 to IPv6, SMEs need to adopt early to reap the benefits or face the challenge of working through blank screens.

So what is IPv6 and why is it relevant to business?

Every Internet connected device has a unique identifier known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address but the current standard, IPv4, is running out and its replacement, IPv6, is not backwards compatible. This means that IPv6 must be universally adopted or connectivity problems will ensue.

As every connected device, from desktop computers to smartphones, and even some fridges and microwaves, needs an IP address. The rapid expansion of devices has meant that the four billion IPv4
addresses originally created are no longer enough. IPv6 allows for a lot more addresses (roughly 340 trillion trillion trillion in total) and guarantees the continued expansion of the Internet.

The RIPE NCC, the Regional Internet Registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of central Asia, which is responsible for allocating IP addresses, expects to completely run out of IPv4 addresses by end of 2012. This means that businesses now need to make sure they are IPv6 ready or risk damaging their business. For instance, a company running on IPv4 may be safe for now, but when users start to come online with IPv6 only devices, the site will be inaccessible - as IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are not backwards compatible. This potential loss of custom can of course have a hugely detrimental impact on any business.

So what do SMEs need to do?

The first step is to assess where the business is in relation to IPv6. Most SMEs rely on their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for their Internet connections and should check that they are able to provide IPv6 as a matter of urgency. In Europe’s service region, 47 percent of ISPs have an allocation of IPv6 and globally 70 percent plan to adopt

IPv6 by the end of 2012.

Any hardware or software that is bought off the shelf should be IPv6 ready but may need to be configured. Old office equipment such as routers may not be compatible and may need upgrading or even
replacing. As such, it is important to carry out an IT audit of the technology used in the workplace. Many vendors will be able to provide advice.

There are also many IPv6 training course options available, from online education to face-to-face training. Staff may need educating before the plan of action is created.

The main adoption strategy is called ‘dual stacking’ and involves running IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneously so that SMEs remain connected to the Internet. This method allows everything to be run and checked
so that if there are any kinks that need to be worked out with IPv6, the adopter can still be accessed using IPv4 and not suffer any loss of connectivity.

Act now

SMEs should make it a priority to adopt IPv6. Only by ensuring that all devices connected to the Internet are compatible with IPv6 can SMEs stay connected and safeguard the sustainable growth of their business.

A carefully planned and strategically executed implementation of IPv6 will be far less disruptive for an organisation than a last-minute, rushed roll-out.

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