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Still sitting on the fence with IPv6?

Scare tactics clearly haven’t persuaded Canadians to switch to the new protocol — so perhaps extolling the benefits of IPv6 could help convince them. Here’s what you need to consider.

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When it comes to the Internet, a lot of Canadians are buying into the old cliché that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Despite Kim Kardashian’s best (or worst?) efforts, the Internet is obviously not broken. It continues to function pretty smoothly despite years of dire warnings that the world is running out of IPv4 addresses.

ARIN (the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which manages online addresses in North America and the Caribbean) officially ran out of new IPv4 real estate last September. But we’ve still been able to get our Facebook fix and binge-watch Making a Murderer, right?

So it’s no surprise that here in Canada, most of us are stubbornly sticking with IPv4 and hoping for the best. The latest global figures show just 8.99 per cent of Canadian Internet users are IPv6-enabled.

That puts us in 18th place among 100 nations, well behind first-place Belgium (where 45.6 per cent of people have already said oui to IPv6) and second-place United States (where about 30 per cent of Internet users have moved over to the new protocol).

Scare tactics (such as decades of screaming “We’re running out of IPv4 addresses!”) clearly haven’t persuaded Canadians to switch to IPv6. So maybe extolling the benefits of IPv6 could help convince them.

One big benefit is speed. Facebook performed tests last year that found IPv6 users reach its site 15 per cent faster than IPv4 users. That’s because IPv6 allows for direct end-to-end connectivity.

Here’s why IPv4 is so slow: since there are so many IPv4 addresses out there, network address translation (NAT) is required in order to connect to an IPv4 site. The traffic doesn’t go directly to a site but takes various dipsy-doodle twists and turns to get there.

Besides faster connectivity (which is a must for streaming content or riding the Internet of Things wave), IPv6 provides more accurate data about where a site’s traffic comes from. Instead of a long list of addresses the traffic had to pass through to finally access your website, you get one access point of origin … and that’s it. Direct connectivity also reduces security risks; the fewer NAT points involved in accessing a site, the lower the exposure to potential threats.

Speaking of security, every IPv6 address automatically comes with an encryption and authentication header. Although both security features are optional (users get to decide whether to activate them or not), they’re baked right into each address. The ingredients are there; you just have to switch on the oven, so to speak, to make it rise to a more secure level. That’s not the case with IPv4.

In addition, every IPv6 address is auto-configured, requiring no human effort and zero cost. Since we’re on the subject of cost, IPv4 addresses will only get more expensive as their supply keeps diminishing.

Okay, so we’ve finally convinced you to make the move to IPv6. What do you do now?

There are plenty of resources for network professionals. The Internet Society’s Deploy360 program offers tutorials, videos, case studies and statistical data. Topics include how to obtain an IPv6 address, deployment planning, comparing IPv4 and IPv6, figuring out if your existing network equipment can support IPv6, peering over IPv6, transition tools and security considerations.

Similar resources are available from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, including a quick test to see if your hardware, network and ISP are IPv6-compliant.

The reality is, whether or not you move to IPv6, the rest of the Internet is already headed there. As of June 1, Apple requires all apps submitted to its app store to support IPv6-only networking. Google and Facebook have adopted IPv6 internally, as well as making all their customer-facing services IPv6-compliant.

If your organization plans to play in the IoT space in any capacity, how will you get the IPv4 addresses you need for all those new devices and connections? You probably won’t, because they simply won’t be there.

You can keep sitting on the fence about IPv6. It just might result in a case of ITYS: I told you so.

Illustration courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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