6 Things Every VAR Should Know About The IPv6 Transition

IPv6 Transisiton Readiness

Wednesday, June 8 is World IPv6 Day, an event in which some of the most recognizable technology companies in the world, including Google, Facebook and Akamai, will offer content over the Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) format for a 24-hour test flight. As solution providers, governments, enterprises and small businesses alike prepare for the transition from IPv4 to IPv6, they'll need to determine whether their infrastructure is ready to make the transition -- a big move that's not only inevitable, but is creating opportunities for solution providers that can advise businesses on the transition. The opportunity for IPv6 in the channel isn't a question; it's the level of that opportunity that's up for debate.

Here are six things every solution provider should know about the IPv6 transition, and the transformation it's creating. It's not a technical cheat sheet, but it'll spark a conversation.

It's Not Optional

The short version of why of the IPv6 transition is happening is a matter of supply and demand. Internet Protocol Version Four (IPv4) has been the standard for formatting Internet addresses since its adoption in 1981, but its format enables 32-bit addresses. Therefore, there's a limit to the supply of IPv4 addresses for addressable devices -- nearly 4.3 billion -- and thanks to astronomical growth in Internet-connected devices over the past decade, that limit is fast approaching. Technically, IPv4 address exhaustion has already happened: the last blocks of IPv4 addresses were allocated to the world's Regional Internet Registries (RIR) in early February. And in mid-April, the Asia Pacific Network Information Center released the last block of IPv4 addresses in its available pool, meaning that, effectively, the Asia Pacific region has run out of IPv4 addresses. Structurally speaking, IPv4 addresses are four sets of numbers ranging from 0 to 255, separated by periods, whereas IPv6 addresses are eight sets of four-digit hexadecimal numbers -- a 128-bit address format that yields enough theoretical addresses that exhaustion will never be a problem.

It Isn't New In The IT Channel

Solution providers might be poking around wondering how they can monetize IPv6 assessment and IPv6 infrastructure upgrade opportunities, which is something that makes an old IPv6 hand like Scott Hogg roll his eyes.

"I think the large majority of resellers have totally ignored V6," said Hogg, director of advanced technology for Denver-based integrator Global Technology Resources (GTRI) and also chair of the Rocky Mountain IPv6 Task Force. "There's really a lack of IPv6 knowledgeable resources at the reseller level. What there is is chatter: those that hear a lot about it and say, 'I want to get in on this.' But there's a small group that's been doing it since 2000 or earlier, and have far more experience on IPv6."

Point well taken: there's a small but dedicated group of solution provider experts who have been knee-deep in the IPv6 transition for ages.

It's Not Y2K

Recent milestones for the depletion of IPv4 addresses, coupled with a stepped-up effort by vendors to market their products and services as IPv6-ready, have created plenty of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) around IPv6. The transition, experts say, is no Y2K scenario, where a period of urgency is going to grow as businesses approach a hard and fast deadline.

That said, according to VARs, it is the right time to give IPv6 assessment a good long look.

"This not a new subject, for starters," said Rodney Thayer, a security integrator with RSG Model Works. "But the timeframe is right to look at it. People see the address exhaustion that happened in February, and you can now draw a line between here and some day in the future where you'll need a public IP address for a new site and you won't be able to get it in in a V4 flavor."

Enterprises Aren't Quite There

A recent survey from Infloblox found that 80 percent of responding IT managers didn't feel educated enough to tackle an IPv6 migration element, and half didn't know which of their network elements supported IPv6 at present. The interest in IPv6 is there, say VARs. But the urgency is not.

"The short answer is: it depends," said Chris Morales, solutions engineer at Accuvant, a Denver-based solution provider. "The news in Asia is that we're out of IPv4 addresses. That's a big deal -- to Asia. North America doesn't have the shortage of addresses that Asia has. For a lot of companies, as I talk to them, until someone makes them do it, there isn't a big rush to do it."

"I think it'll hit home with IT managers and IT directors regardless of the mandates," said Greg Stemberger, principal network engineer at Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based solution provider. "IPv6 is your future, whether you like it or not, and that's going to be true sooner rather than later."

It's Mandated For The Federal Government

For solution providers that deal all or in some part with the federal government, IPv6 isn't a suggestion -- it's a mandate. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has pushed IPv6 transition requirements on federal agencies since 2005, and the latest word on transitions from the feds came down last fall.

According to a late September 2010 memo from Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, all federal agencies need to upgrade public/external facing services to native IPv6 by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, as well as upgrade internal client applications that communicate with public Internet servers and supporting enterprise networks to operationally use native IPv6 by the end of the 2014 fiscal year. Government agencies also need to have designated an IPv6 Transition Manager, and ensure that all agency procurements of networked IT comply with the requirements for use of USGv6 Profile and Test Program for evaluating IPv6 readiness.

It's A Trusted Advisor Sale (Sound Familiar?)

"Without a doubt, it's time for integrators and resellers to be looking at the issue," said Vince Ricco, senior network consultant at IP networking vendor Allied Telesis. "It's a good opportunity to be value-add to customers by looking at a migrational transition and advising on how they need to prepare, making sure they know what's available."

At the very least, say IPv6 experts, solution providers can be in a position of knowledge -- when customers ask "what do I do," they can troubleshoot, offer advice, and craft assessments and professional services that can help customers smooth out their own transition, as well as answer questions about security. It's no delicate undertaking, said Patrick Bedwell, vice president of product marketing for Fortinet. "The question we hear a lot of it: where do I start?" Bedwell said. "What they're reading about is that the address space has now been exhausted. So it's now top-of-mind for a lot of people, and they're slowly realizing that it's not something trivial like uploading a patch onto software."