IPv6 a Big Opportunity for Managed Service Providers

By Howard M. Cohen  |  Print this article Print

Helping clients transition to IPv6 could be a thriving business for MSPs for years to come.

It’s the project whose time has come - nine years ago. Literally all the IP addresses available in the original internet numbering scheme, IPv4, have been distributed, the last block in 2011. The new numbering has been available for many years, and the intention was to complete the transition from the old to the new in April 2011. With all the things and people being added to the internet, this transition must happen soon. The opportunities for those who are prepared are enormous.

Every device on the internet, and every device on private networks that use TCP/IP protocol, must have an IP address. The primary IP address for www.channelinsider.com, this publication, is Four numbers between 0 and 255, each separated by dots. If you calculate the number of permutations possible in this 32-bit schema, you’ll come up with about 4.3 billion. In 1973, when Vinton Cerf and his team at ARPAnet were busy creating IPv4 for the global network, they probably couldn’t imagine needing more addresses than that.

They were correct for 32 years. On January 31, 2011 the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) distributed the last blocks of available addresses to the regional exchanges around the world who each assigned them locally, finishing in September 2012.

Yes, we ran out of IPv4 addresses eight years ago.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that nobody else can join the internet. Millions of addresses are released and reassigned regularly, and most routers use Network Address Translation (NAT) to assign an “internal-only” IP address to every device behind them. You’ve seen these too. They usually take the form “192.168.1.#” with the “#” being one of 256 devices assigned automatically upon login by Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP).

4.3 Billion IPv4 Addresses Not Enough

4.3 billion seems like a large number, and certainly seemed enormous back in 1969 when the net was first being created. But even then, they foresaw a global network that would eventually require far more addresses for far more things. Even as they introduced Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) they had already begun work on IPv6. Incredible insight.

With all the “things” being added to the internet we certainly need more available addresses. Think about every mobile phone, every tablet, every laptop. Add virtual servers that each require dozens or even hundreds of IP addresses each. All the smart home appliances, home entertainment centers, IP-enabled automobiles, refrigerators, washer/dryers, firewalls, and things like sensors on corporate IoT networks. Will IPv6 be enough?

IPv6 uses a 128-bit structure as opposed to IPv4’s 32-bit. The available number of addresses is so large as to be difficult to comprehend, but here’s the comparison in approximated numbers:

IPv4: 4,290,000,000 addresses. 4.3 billion.

IPv6: 3,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 addresses. 34 undecillion.

That should last a while.

Two Tremendous MSP Opportunities

The fact that the overwhelming majority of organizations really haven’t even begun planning for IPv6 transition creates enormous opportunities for managed services providers (MSPs) to help perform that planning and then execute those plans, twice!

Yes, twice.

First, you’ll need to move your client to a hybrid environment where both IPv4 and IPv6 coexist. For many, the transition to IPv6 began years ago. Most analysts predicted that it would take years, but hybrid strategies would allow more time as users ran their networks using both address structures.

Since the address structures are so different from one another, and IPv6 uses a different data packet structure, IPv4 devices and IPv6 devices cannot interoperate without using some form of gateway.

The most popular coexistence hybrid strategies include tunneling, in which the IPv6 traffic is encapsulated into the IPv4 header, though this introduces additional overhead, dual-stack, which basically does the reverse using address translation, or cloud-based translation services.

Then, when your customer is no longer connecting to services that still use IPv4, it will be time to transition from the hybrid environment to a fully IPv6 network.

Two great projects, both requiring significant work effort and some products, too.

Tell This Story to Your Customers

Even your smaller customers will eventually need to transition to IPv6 eventually. Right now you can help your largest customers by making sure they have plans in place to transition from IPv4 to hybrid and then to IPv6. If they don’t, get started helping them plan, then execute the plan. This will take a considerable amount of time, most of it billable.

It’s safe to say that all manufacturers of routers and switches have their products and plans in place to help with IPv6 migration. Talk to those you work with most. Get your plans and programs defined. Then go talk to every customer.