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Dr. Vint Cerf: The Need For IPv6

The Internet is the most widely-used communication tool. As the applications that connect us continue to evolve, it is imperative that everything intended to be interconnected implement and maintain common and interoperable protocols. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest version of the Internet Protocol that identifies and locates computers and other devices that are connected to the Internet. Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, known as a “Father of the Internet”, a co-designer of the Internet Protocol and the Internet’s architecture, and currently Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, is an outspoken advocate for a prompt global transition to IPv6. Since October 2005, Dr. Cerf has been responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and policies to support the development of advanced, Internet-based products and services from Google. One of these critically important technologies is IPv6.

IPv6 boasts several advantages when compared to the legacy version IPv4. It offers increased address space, specified address allocation, supporting a larger scale Internet, and support for security using IPsec (Internet Protocol Security). Internet service providers will benefit from the ability to reduce the size of their routing tables, generating a hierarchical structure. This will allow better network performance for control of heavy media and critical apps. Overall, IPv6 improves both performance and efficiency.

Despite IPv6’s advantages, adoption has been slow. This can be attributed in part to NAT (Network Address Translation), which has helped extend the lifespan of IPv4. NAT converts multiple private IPv4 addresses into a single public IPv4 address, thus allowing an enterprise to use private IPv4 addresses internal to their organizations and fewer public IPv4 addresses. This postpones an immediate need for using public IPv6 addresses. Without NAT, organizations that have thousands of computers would exhaust their public IPv4 addresses when communicating with external sources. However, IPv4 is hindered by its reliance on NAT. “Address translation in a NAT box is kind of spoofing,” Dr. Cerf commented. “It introduces vulnerabilities that could be eliminated by having an end to end IPv6 connection.” With an inundation of new devices demanding connectivity, the total exhaustion of IPv4 addresses is inevitable. Dr. Cerf believes that this further highlights the need for IPv6. “…at some point we completely run out of IPv4 space even with NAT, which will certainly cause some problems. We’re creating a brittle infrastructure by relying on outdated protocols.”

Despite the benefits of IPv6, Dr. Cerf acknowledges the hurdles. “The implementation is painstaking because you have to find every piece of code that thinks an IP address is 32 bits and make sure it can handle both (sizes).” (IPv6 addresses have 128 bits.) Considering the limited awareness of IPv6 by the general public, Dr. Cerf believes that the key motivator for the transition lies in data. He encourages those who are interested in assisting in this movement to collect statistics that allow broken IPv6 connectivity to be measured. This will allow network providers to focus on general IPv6 connectivity. Additionally, Dr. Cerf emphasizes the importance of education and awareness. “The more we can do to expose the connectivity statistics and identify providers who have not implemented IPv6, the more likely we will see progress.”

Merit Network recently concluded a pilot program with its governing members to provide training and certification for IPv6 transition readiness. It is critical for most large organizations to begin the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 early. To learn more about the ways in which your organization might prepare, visit the Merit Marketplace or contact your Member Engagement Manager today.