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Building the IPv6 cloud: Two interdependent inflection points

An IPv6 cloud is the foundation for agile and scalable next-gen services, which means cloud providers and MSPs should develop their IPv6 and cloud strategies concurrently.

Demands are changing. Enterprise customers now expect new services to be built around scalability and agility. Meeting this demand can be challenging for operators and managed service providers (MSPs) saddled with an inflexible legacy architecture, but those two service characteristics correspond to major inflection points in technology -- IPv6 and cloud computing -- which make up the foundation for building these next-generation services.

  • Scalability = IPv6. It's time we face the fact that the private IPv4 address space no longer supports the growing footprint of both users and devices. Any organization with a global footprint (or aspirations to have one) must become IPv6-ready in short order. The first to experience the pain will be service providers. Among them, the fans of carrier-grade network address translation (NAT) should keep in mind that it remains unclear how well carrier-grade NAT will scale, how much complexity it will introduce and what impact it may have on the user experience. It's time for all service providers to bite the bullet and transition to IPv6.
  • Agility = cloud. To help business customers become more agile, service providers must enable them to consume just the right amount of IT resources for the right amount of time. Public and private cloud services are key to supporting this, and as more customers tap cloud services, they will be better informed about what they need from cloud providers and what they need from network operators.

Figure 1: IPv6 and cloud computing provide the foundation for agile, scalable services.
Figure 1: IPv6 and cloud computing provide the foundation for agile, scalable services.

On top of both of these trends, another demand is emerging: better application management. Customers are facing dramatic growth in the number of applications they have to support, and those applications will soon be cloud-ready (if they're not already) and have much shorter lifecycles. Managing these applications in a traditional IT environment will be challenging for customers; and managing these applications across a hybrid cloud will be even more challenging. The agility and scalability that can be achieved in an IPv6 cloud puts service providers and MSPs in an ideal position to help customers regain control over application management.

We are not talking about a feature being enabled, a service being rolled out or some software being upgraded. The inflection points shown in Figure 1 represent foundational, all-encompassing changes that affect every cloud provider. They touch every aspect of the IT environment; they are complex and interdependent.

IPv6 cloud: Complex, but rewarding for providers

For example, let's look at IPv6 and cloud computing. Each technology (and together, the IPv6 cloud) affects every aspect of the service provider's environment, from the infrastructure to the applications to the processes, operations and management tools -- all of which must become IPv6 cloud-ready. Building the IPv6 cloud is a complex exercise, requiring coordination across multiple groups and projects for an effective and optimal implementation. For service providers, transitioning each of these two technologies will be major undertakings in their own right. It is not just about refresh; the biggest challenge will be to update the back-end and operational systems to support IPv6 cloud services.

Cloud computing and IPv6 are intertwined, in that IPv6 provides the resources and capabilities to scale up cloud deployments. IPv6 simplifies the manageability of distributed cloud resources and consumers. Executing one transition without the other is likely to lead to suboptimal or shorter-term solutions.

 Figure 2: Aligning the IPv6 and cloud transition roadmaps.
Figure 2: Aligning the IPv6 and cloud transition roadmaps

Ultimately, cloud providers must take a comprehensive approach to IPv6 and cloud computing, as shown in Figure 2, and think about their uses in the context of technology, processes and people. When defining any new cloud networking, computing and storage standard, make sure it is IPv6-ready. When designing cloud data centers, go for the larger broadcast domains because IPv6 makes it easy to support them. Take advantage of the size of the IPv6 address space to embed more information in the IP address to simplify management. When selecting the tools for cloud orchestration, ensure their IPv6 readiness.

The same goes for cloud services: Assess applications for IPv6/cloud readiness at the same time to optimize execution. Design your services with both IPv6 and cloud computing in mind and align roadmaps to coordinate efforts and avoid rework.

Complexity is the bane of our collective existence, and it is bound to get worse. Setting the proper foundation for the IPv6 cloud, however, will save us a lot of grief in terms of minimizing implementation and operational headaches. For cloud providers and MSPs, the right strategy is an IPv6 cloud strategy.

About the author: Ciprian Popoviciu, PhD, is the president and CEO of Nephos6, a cloud and IPv6 consulting services company with extensive experience in developing strategy, planning and implementation for cloud deployments and IPv6 transitions. An industry-recognized subject matter expert in IPv6, Ciprian has co-authored two books (Deploying IPv6 Networksand Global IPv6 Strategies) in addition to writing multiple RFCs and patents. Visit nephos6.com for more information, or follow him on Twitter @zamolxesv6.

This was last published in February 2012

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