IPv6: The Second Coming of the Digital Apocalypse?

Originsnostradamus-1503-15663T’was the year 1999. The World was in utter chaos. The new millennium was just looming round the corner, and people were in panic, frantic about the mysteries of the unknown future – “Y2K”. While the superstitious turned to Nostradamus and his prophecies of Doomsday, techies were dealing with an apocalypse of their own – cracking their heads over a glitch that would cause computer systems all around the world to fail… … Well, only slightly exaggerating, but you get the idea. As you would’ve known by now, nothing actually happened. Instead 300 billion US dollars in preventive measures were spent in preparation for this problem, only to have negligible effects compared to the other less-prepared countries. So why exactly am I “digging up the past”? Well, that’s because a similar situation is happening now. A catastrophe is facing us once again, except this time, it is very real. For the benefit of the less techie readers, I will try to explain this “IPv6” problem (using the 5Ws and 1H), using as many layman analogies terms as possible, so you too can tackle this issue. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)What’s the problem? IPv4 has served us for almost 2 decades, so why ditch it right now? Well that’s because a similar numerical problem to the Y2K bug is happening. The existing IPv4 framework runs on 32bit (32 digit) addresses – in theory each and every one of us is supposed to get 1 unique address. The people 2 decades ago figured – okay 232 (4,294,967,296) addresses should be enough for the human race right?WRONG. Yes people, we are literally on the verge of an IP address “starvation”. The funny thing though is that this problem has been around for almost a decade. In order to alleviate this problem (a nicer way of saying delay the inevitable) around the mid-1990s, Network Address Translation or, NAT was implemented. What it roughly does, is that it combines multiple IP addresses into a singular common IP address, thus eliminating the need for multiple addresses. (Imagine, everyone in a country having only 1 common mobile number). This change went against the original concept of IPv4, and while it solved one issue, it caused another problem. How do you call a specific person if everyone is sharing a mobile number? This then led to the development of other technologies like DHCP etc. The amount of layers needed to decipher was a great inconvenience – causing incompatibility issues in websites and applications. Raise your hand if you’ve encountered the all familiar “ Someone else with this IP address is already downloading” on sites like Megaupload and Rapidshare. I know I have. Even with NAT, IPv4 addresses are on the brink of running out. So the solution is simple. Get more addresses. Of course, in typical human complacency, we’re only panicking at the absolute last minute. With IPv6, the number of addresses will jump to a whooping 128bits (128 digits) – 2 128 or 3.40282367 × 10 38 to be exact. Which should last us a while. (Try beating that human reproduction!) Imagine if our phone numbers weren’t usable with any prefixes or country codes – it would have ran out too. IPv6 simply put, is the move to more digits. naptlogo Now comes the big headache. The solution is simple, the execution however is going to be enormous. Everyone needs to shift to IPv6. The complication though, is that IPv4 and IPv6 are not interoperable, and it is unrealistic to have everyone shift at the same time – there are going to be stragglers left behind in the old network, people with incompatible technologies, or worse, technology too old to upgrade. When will this occur? As of 2008, less than 1 percent of internet traffic has adopted IPv6, yet IPv4 addresses are slated to run out between 2010 to 2012. Who does it affect? Technically, it affects everyone and anyone who uses the internet. However, the hardest hit are going to be people at the top tier, i.e. people running their own platforms, servers or programs. These are the people that are going to have to independently configure their applications and websites to work correctly. Some examples include: –          Internet Service Providers –          Content Providers –          Application Developers –          Equipment Vendors –          Government Organizations –          Businesses The good news is, most of us are already more than half way there in resolving the problem. Most major corporations have already implemented IPv6 compatibility, and as long as your equipment isn’t too dated, most vendors have already taken measures to ensure that the capabilities are there for a successful migration such as through firmware or software updates. Windows for example, has IPv6 capabilities, so you can make the shift when you’re ready. The bad news is, if you’re a developer, you’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and create compatibility yourself. How can I resolve this issue? The most basic step is to update all your drivers, software and equipment. This is the least difficult part of the transition, merely applying the fixes that others have implemented. Until IPv6 completely supplants IPv4, a number of “transition mechanisms”are needed to force interoperability between old and new. This is going to involve 2 major techniques –Dual-Stack, and Tunneling. Dual Stack The dual-stack technique involves retaining both the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. i.e. Instead of throwing away your old 8 digit mobile phone number, you keep both old and new, such that you remain contactable no matter how you are reached. Remember, this is important as IPv4 and IPv6 are not interoperable –this is the only way people never get left behind even if they do not immediately adopt IPv6 on D-day. This is expected to last for more than a decade until everyone has migrated. Tunneling Broking Imagine data being transmitted through IPv4 being in English and IPv6 being in a foreign language. Tunneling essentially translates any IPv6 language into understandable data within the IPv4 channel. Interoperability is going to be the key to preventing half the world to lose their connectivity. Where can I go to resolve this issue? If you are a lower tier developer, it would be wise to go one level up to handle the issue. For example, if you run a blog on WordPress, you should be approaching WordPress first before doing any tweaks to your own site. In that scenario though, you can be pretty certain that the WordPress people will take care of it, but it doesn’t hurt to enquire. If you are at the top of the chain however, there are several organizations and resources out there to help you. One of which is APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Centre) http://www.apnic.net/. They offer training sessions, help you plan timetables for transitions, budget management and other planning services. Another great resource is GoGoNet: http://gogonet.gogo6.com/ They have an active social media community and tons of guides and videos to get you started. They are one of the few websites hosting Tunnel Broking services free of charge, for international users. (Singapore’s ISPs aren’t providing one, nor does Singapore have one for that matter) I would highly recommend everyone to at the very least, set up your connection to use IPv6. You can do so from GoGoNet’s website and grab their free tunnel broker application http://gogonet.gogo6.com/page/freenet6-tunnelbroker. Why should I act now? If not now, when? Unlike the millennium bug, this is a problem that we already well on our way into. In fact, we are already approaching the “bubble” – a point where IPv4 can be exhausted any day. The sooner your organization gets the fixes in place, the more you can be assured that you won’t lose valuable business from downtime on your servers and incompatibility to consumers through your products. More Info For more information on this, there is a great article on ars technica written in 2007 that still holds a startling level of accuracy today http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2007/03/IPv6.ars/4. Last Wordsarchitecture_of_evolutionWith the restoration of Internet Protocol to its original functionality, many exciting things lie ahead of us. Networking will be easier than ever and managing groups will be a lot more straightforward. We at EASTWEST Public Relations hope this article has helped you. It is situations like this that really display the power of social media to influence. Please pass this on so corporations and clients alike can raise awareness and educate each other more on IPv6 and move onward towards a smooth transition, as one. References:http://www.opus1.com/ipv6/whatisipv6.htmlhttp://ntrg.cs.tcd.ie/undergrad/4ba2.02/ipv6/interop.html

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