When the first details of what would later become the Internet were being worked out in the 1980s, the creators had to come up with a way to communicate with specific devices across different networks. The solution that was adapted was known as Internet Protocol, Version 4 (IPv4).
With IPv4, each device connected to the Internet was assigned an identification number known as an IP address. IPv4 addresses were equal to a 32 bit number. This allows for a possible total of 4.3 billion unique addresses (2 raised to the 32nd power). With the huge and perhaps unanticipated growth of Internet enabled electronics such as mobile devices, the number of available IP addresses has become exhausted.
A solution had to be developed in order to increase the number of available IP address. Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) was created to do just this. With IPv6, the number of unique addresses increases from 4.3 billion, to 340 undecillion (34 followed by 39 zeros) addresses. This is because IPv6 addresses use 128 bit numbers to represent IP addresses instead of the 32 bit numbers of IPv4. Other features of IPv6 include a more simplified and efficient routing format and the ability to transmit and receive larger packet sizes.
Most new hardware and software platforms have been written with IPv6 in mind and not many upgrades will have to be done. With Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, IPv6 is supported. For many hardware devices, a simple firmware upgrade will allow the device to be IPv6 compatible. From a software standpoint, even Windows 2000 was written with built-in IPv6 support, as do modern operating systems such as Windows 7.
Even with the built-in support, there are issues that IT administrators should examine to see if they are ready for IPv6.
- Compatibility issues
- Invalid IP addresses
Let’s take a closer look at each…
Compatibility: IPv6 is not compatible with IPv4. If a company intends to keep some servers and applications running using IPv4 while others are using IPv6, they will essentially have to manage two separate networks simultaneously.
Invalid IP addresses: A concern for websites using IP addressing within a web page is that these IP addresses will be completely invalid once the new addressing of IPv6 kicks in and the address links will be broken.
Spam: Another issue has to do with IPv6 are website filters and blacklists. These lists will have to be completely updated to take the new IPv6 addressing into account. IT administrators should also be aware that with the larger number of IP addresses available, it will be easier for spam writers to obtain large blocks of IP address for malicious use. This increased number of addresses used for spam would become more difficult to filter out compared with IPv4.
These concerns are relatively minor compared to the speed and the flexibility IPv6 will offer. The “v6” does after all stand for “version 6” and just is the next in the line of many versions of IP addressing. By running different systems and applications on a “test” IPv6 network before switching over, IT administrators can be sure that the transition will go smoothly.