AT&T sees businesses wading slowly into IPv6

To help customers make the switch to IPv6, AT&T offers a consulting service

Even though we're due to run out of IPv4 addresses in the next year, AT&T doesn't expect enterprises to be fully IPv6-ready when D-Day arrives.

IPv6 tunnel basics

While the American Registry for Internet Numbers has been banging the IPv6 drum for years, AT&T is finding that most businesses so far are taking a slow and gradual approach to migration rather than making the switch all at once. This gradual approach isn't a bad thing either, since the depletion of IPv4 addresses doesn't mean that companies will suddenly be unable to have their content available on the web. Indeed, AT&T says that taking a slow approach to migration is giving companies time to make sure they do a thorough job. (See also: Businesses need to move on IPv6, Verizon says)

"The biggest hurdle for a lot of customers is simply understanding the scope of what has to be done to migrate to IPv6," says Dale McHenry, the vice president of enterprise networking for AT&T Business Solutions. "There's just a lot of parts. It's amazing how broad IP addressing is with all the sub-networks that are active in our own internal systems."

McHenry says that many companies aren't aware of just how much of their equipment will have to be made ready for IPv6 in the coming years, from their routers and network management equipment to firewalls and VPN devices. Essentially, anything that has an IP address will have to be cataloged and made IPv6-capable.

To help customers make the switch to IPv6, AT&T offers a consulting service. Rob Harrell, a consultant for AT&T who helps advise customers on their architecture needs, says the first thing he does is to get customers to catalog how many of their points of presence (POPs) are able to handle IPv6 packets. Like McHenry, he says that customers often aren't aware of all the different parts of their infrastructure they'll need to account for before fully moving over to IPv6.

"A lot of people don't realize that things like DNS, e-mail servers and VPN concentrators that sit on the edge of the network have to be addressed from a readiness perspective,"he says. "I mean, if you have a firewall that does intrusion protection, just because it's enabled for v4 doesn't mean you can automatically enable it for v6."

Harrell says companies also need to have an understanding of what user communities on their networks require IPv6 connectivity and where they sit on the network. From there, they need to assess whether they want to implement either dual-stack services that can handle both IPv4 and IPv6 or tunneling services that put IPv6 traffic inside what looks on the outside like IPv4 traffic so it can be sent over IPv4 networks. Harrell recommends that customers use dual stack for most of their needs and says they should only resort to tunneling if their current equipment doesn't support dual stack. The reason for this is that while tunneling can be a low-cost way to provide IPv6 connectivity, it lacks the performance quality that dual stack services provide.

McHenry says one mistake that businesses often make is that they assume IPv6 is something that is only relevant to carriers, when in reality businesses have to take responsibility to determine their own IPv6 needs. However, he says the last couple of years have seen a significant uptick in IT departments becoming more aware that they need to get the ball moving on IPv6 migration, even if they have to do it at a slow but steady pace.

"Most customers now have an understanding that they need to spend energy understanding this topic, whereas a year ago not even half of our customers were in that mode," he says. "There's an inclination among some of our customers that this is a carrier problem alone, but in my view that's not the case."

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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