6Sense: Generating New Possibilities in the New Internet.
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Mastering the IPv6 Transition
By Tom Kreidler
Vice President of Juniper Federal Systems
Juniper Networks

Juniper Networks

Change is often difficult, and transitioning your IPv4 network to IPv6 may be the most challenging project ever undertaken by your networking staff. The primary issue facing many CIOs and CTOs is whether or not the transition should even happen. After all, if an IPv4 network is working fine and there does not seem to be a rush by other organizations to migrate, then why change? It may seem easy to stay put with a working IPv4 network and not force a change — but, on the other hand, can you risk being behind in planning if your competitors start a mass movement toward IPv6 or your federal agency is required to implement IPv6 in a relatively short timeframe?

Fortunately the physical infrastructure the wires, connectors, cabinets and racks — are identical for both networking standards. A transition to IPv6 does not mean that you have to remove expensive fiber optic or twisted-pair cables, engineer new equipment storage rooms, or install new wall plates and jacks. At the application level, IPv6 is transparent to the human-machine interface, meaning that your employees and customers will continue to use their familiar applications as before.

Where IPv6 does have an impact are the middle layers — the addressing and routing mechanisms of your network. Once the transition is complete, all of the devices on your network will have new addresses. A fortunate fact about IPv6 is that it is backwards compatible with existing IPv4 installations. This means that you can run both IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time on the same network while the migration is taking place.

So how should you go about transitioning to IPv6? What are the critical success factors? When should you start? The following "rules of thumb" were gleaned from dozens of organizations and agencies that have already transitioned to IPv6 and could save you significant time and money managing your own transition:

  • Start Early: Begin the planning process as soon as possible. Transition planning is complex, particularly where new features of IPv6 require changes in the architectural structure of the network.
  • Identify and Track Success Measures: Define the metrics that provide senior management confidence that strategic value is being gained by IPv6 and the transition is progressing as defined. Metrics should be defined for strategy, management and governance, technical processes, schedules and each phase of the transition.
  • Centralize Transition Management: In large, distributed organizations, centralized management becomes very critical in the transition process. Government agencies and large enterprises should consider forming a transition office.
  • Build the Business Case: Provide the quantitative and qualitative reasons for transitioning to IPv6. When possible, the business case should reflect directly on major program activities and specific solutions and impacts.
  • Resource Appropriately: Resourcing the transition planning and implementation activities should be viewed as a budget saver, and not providing sufficient resources could have costly impacts.
  • Leverage Executive Authority: Take advantage of the authority of the highest level executive possible within the organization to sponsor the transition program and set policy. This provides significant help to the overall priority of the transition program when competing for resources.
  • Develop Clear Policy and Enforcement Procedures: IPv6 policies should be released and emphasized on a timely basis. If available, utilize existing methods or tools for review and enforcement of policies.
  • Buy and Build IPv6 Capable: Require that all products and services acquired or developed be IPv6 capable; a strong caveat on this approach is to define “IPv6 Capable” for your organization and update the definition regularly.
  • Transition Development Resources: Begin migrating expenditures and staff focused on solving problems in IPv4 to solving them in IPv6. Voice over IP (VoIP), convergence and QoS are examples where R&D resources could be reallocated to focus on IPv6.

Fortunately, it will be a few years before IPv4 is obsolete, so the best approach is to time your transition to coincide with normal expansions and upgrades and to learn from those who have gone before you. Before you know it, your entire organization will be IPv6 end-to-end and you’ll be ready to take full advantage of all the new features that IPv6 brings to the Internet.

For more information on Best Practices for IPv6 Transition in the Federal Government, visit www.juniper.net/federal/ipv6.

Tom Kreidler, vice president of Juniper Federal Systems, Juniper Networks has more than 20 years of experience providing the government with information technology solutions. He can be reached at govtinfo@juniper.net.