Why you should update your IPv6 equipment purchasing policies now

To make your network IPv6 equipment ready for the transition, these guidelines can help you update your purchasing policies to make sure you and your vendors are on the same page when it comes to IPv6 features.

Despite being declared ready for production for many years now, IPv6 adoption only started to speed up over the past several months. Google estimates (I think this sounds better in present tense…would like to leave it) 4% of users currently access its properties over IPv6, and 8.5% of U.S. Internet users have IPv6 access. That said, IPv6 adoption is doubling every nine months.

The availability of IPv6 would be irrelevant if content and applications weren't accessible over the new protocol. But the content side of the IPv6 adoption equation is being taken care of by the leading providers, which place Google, Yahoo, Netflix and Facebook at the forefront. In fact, Facebook intends to go IPv6-only in two-to-three years. And while not all content is IPv6-accessible, enabling it can be fast, even if it comes at the cost of doing IPv4-to-IPv6 translation.

On the broadband access side, the current level of IPv6 adoption in the U.S. is primarily due to the efforts of Comcast and AT&T. The thing they have in common, along with other service providers rolling out IPv6 around the world, is that they started the planning and deployment process several years ago.

Good purchasing policies ensure that all refreshed and new hardware and software is IPv6-ready.

The more complex side of IPv6 adoption is the responsibility of service providers that need to provide IPv6 access to both their residential and commercial users. Transitioning to IPv6 means providers have to make sure their purchasing policies are updated for IPv6-enabled equipment, which ranges from host hardware like computers and OS software, to routers (which include switches and load balancers) and network protection products like firewalls and intrusion detection systems.

While upgrading infrastructure through the regular refresh cycles by purchasing IPv6-ready equipment takes time, it's the most cost-effective approach. In addition, providers need time to coach or coax vendors to reach the level of IPv6 readiness expected of them and their products.

Considering that the American Registry for Internet Numbers is in the final stages of its IPv4-countdown plan, and considering everything going on with respect to IPv6 adoption, service providers don't have time to procrastinate about updating purchasing policies and vendor management processes. Good purchasing policies ensure all refreshed and new hardware and software is IPv6-ready. Updated vendor management processes help make sure vendors don't just promise IPv6 support, they also maintain it.

Here are some recommendations on how to update your company's purchasing policies to support your IPv6 strategy:

  • Define your IPv6-based target architecture and the supporting design. Identify the IPv6 features required for each element of the target architecture.
  • Identify the scalability and performance requirements for the IPv6 features targeted.
  • Prioritize the features based on IPv6 deployment and service-enablement plans.
  • Develop purchasing checklists and distribute them with all IT projects to IT purchasing decision makers and the vendor management teams.

For high-level, generic guidance and comparison, refer to the following IPv6-readiness documents from different organizations, even though providers have to define their own sets of requirements for IPv6 readiness. The following organizations developed their own, generic set of requirements for various types of equipment. Providers can use that as a starting point to build their own, more specific sets: Ripe Network Coordination Center: Requirements for IPv6 in ICT equipment.

National Institute of Standards and Technology: USGv6 buyer's guide; IPv6 Forum: IPv6-ready logo for different technologies and protocols.

The default IPv6 requirement for a product that hasn't been purchased yet is to request parity with IPv4 from your vendor. While parity is reasonable in terms of feature performance and scale, feature parity can be a problem. Vendors have limited resources too, so signaling interest in specific features and working with vendors on meeting this demand will help streamline your transition efforts.

From a technology perspective, pay attention the following areas and find out how to handle them when making the transition to IPv6 equipment:

  • Multiple IPv6 addresses of various scope for each interface.
  • IPv6 extension headers and the performance impact (or lack of it) on forwarding performance.
  • Multicast implementation.
  • Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP)-based control plane.
  • Securing IPv6.
  • Managing two protocols side by side for the duration of the transition.

To be able to define an IPv6 product requirements list that works for your organization's target architecture, you need a team that is very familiar with IPv6, has experience operating in your environment, and understands your future roadmap. This means IPv6 education is essential in bringing the organization to a place where it can contribute effectively to updating the purchasing policies for IPv6 readiness.

Similar to your organization, vendors need to ready their organizations for IPv6 by not only getting their technology ready, but by also ensuring their staff is knowledgeable in supporting the new protocol and features, and by updating their processes to ensure consistent quality of IPv6 features.

Update your vendor management processes

So along with updating your company's purchasing policies, it's important to update your entire vendor management process to support IPv6. These guidelines will help you do that:

  • Make IPv6-readiness requirements a mandatory item in the purchasing process for all products.
  • Create a central repository with the current IPv6-readiness profiles for the organization.
  • Request a clear and detailed IPv6 roadmap from each vendor and monitor progress against it.
  • To the extent possible, verify vendor's IPv6 development, system and regression testing processes are at least on par with IPv4, and monitor consistency and stability in product features.

Preparing for IPv6 and updating IPv6 policies is an ongoing effort. The body of knowledge, with respect to IPv6 deployment, continues to grow and diversify. Moreover, the protocol is evolving and new functionality is making its way from Internet Engineering Task Force standards to products.

Check out Ciprian Popoviciu's expert IPv6 advice

What kind of IPv6 advice can providers offer enterprise customers?

What's the fallout for enterprises if providers lag in implementing IPv6?

When designing cloud infrastructure, should providers include IPv6?

Always learn from the experience of others and apply that knowledge to the specifics of your vision. Consult with those who actually deployed the protocol and attend IPv6 conferences like the North America IPv6 Forum Summit.

Remember that service providers differentiate themselves based on the way they build their infrastructure and deliver their services. This means IPv6 enablement is going to be a unique business and technical value proposition and model for your organization. Just because a piece of customer premises equipment was certified for IPv6 by one provider doesn't mean it will meet the requirements of your target architecture. It's important to define your specific IPv6 requirements and work closely with your vendors to make sure they are ready when you need them to be.

The bottom line is: If you didn't yet make your purchasing policies IPv6-ready, you are most likely currently investing in equipment and products that should already be considered legacy.

This was first published in July 2014

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