In many ways IPv6 adoption efforts resemble more traditional IT infrastructure projects. But there are also some specific steps in an IPv6 project that, if skipped, can and often will be the difference between success and failure. For those that were taught the Cisco training methodology, most projects have a Prepare-Plan-Design-Implement-Operate-Optimize or PPDIOO feel to them. Otherwise, if you were Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) trained, then Strategy-Design-Transition-Operation-Continual Improvement is applied to the service or project. Mature IT organizations are likely to follow one of these disciplines for their IPv6 deployment endeavors.
Today, IPv6 projects are typically initiated for several reasons, but one common reason is to maintain governance and compliance with a new regulation, application, or client requirement. During the early years of IPv6, as we were watching available IPv4 address allocation countdown clocks run out, everyone thought the primary driver was going to be lack of available public IPv4 address space. While that challenge still exists today, we often see some extremely creative subnetting feats and inefficient uses of NAT to achieve a given networking project’s goals. Hey…it is 2020…the 90s called and wants their IP addressing scheme back. I always remind clients and partners that IPv6 is the current Internet Protocol and if you are spending millions of dollars on a large network infrastructure upgrade or redesign and you are doing so with a legacy protocol… well, why would you do that? But still, many organizations don’t understand the financial and technical debt they take on by kicking the can down the road and staying on IPv4-only.
The simplest explanation for why enterprise IT projects often neglect IPv6 in favor of IPv4 can be attributed to the “human element.” If you have been a network engineer or architect since the days of IBM SNA, Novell IPX or any number of other network protocols, you have already lived through the rapid growth of the Internet and the world-wide adoption of TCP/IP. Maybe you thought to yourself, “I have done this once and am glad I do not have to go through that again.” After spending 20+ years designing, deploying and maintaining TCP/IP networks, I can pretty much guarantee that nearly all of your legacy networks have a similar look and feel—right down to the config files and IP addressing spreadsheets that you have tucked away in your rarely-accessed private folder stash. I get it; we are paid for our knowledge of what works and what is tried and true. Network uptime, performance, and stability are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a successful career. Why would one take a chance and mess that up? I have even heard network architects say that “the next guy can deploy IPv6, after I’ve retired and am long gone.”
Our job as network architects and engineers is to leverage technology to the best of our ability to recognize the largest gain from the technology and services that we have been entrusted to design and maintain. Often, other pressures such as time-to-market or budget constraints win out and cause the project to start off on the wrong foot. To network architects and engineers who lack understanding of the protocol, IPv6 may seem like a distant requirement or too risky to deploy in the near-term.
Here are the most common areas to focus on (that also address the “human element”) for a successful IPv6 project. The successful IPv6 adoption efforts will typically include all of these as part of their overall project.
- Training – If the organization has limited, or no experience with IPv6 deployments, there must be a formal investment in IPv6 training and education throughout the lifecycle of their IPv6 project. This training should not consist of a single chapter in one of the many core networking curriculums that most network administrators, engineers or architects took at some point in their career. Rather, it must be current, in-depth, hands-on training where core team members get to learn the real details and potential pitfalls of an IPv6 deployment.
- Adoption Plan – A high-level strategy document should be developed, one that will serve as the roadmap for the entire project. Some organizations have already made the commitment to deploy IPv6, but do not have the experience to understand how to start. This is a common requirement for organizations that like to see a complete project plan before they commit to funding the larger effort overall.
- Assessment – A number of organizations have already started their IPv6 efforts but are still trying to understand if their infrastructure is truly ready for IPv6. Can their current equipment handle IPv6 or will they need to make changes to their environment? This step should include device-level assessments for each device type or family that the client has standardized upon. Avoid vendor marketing that just has a single check mark that says they support IPv6. There are many aspects of how IPv6 is deployed that will need to be piloted and tested in a proof-of-concept lab environment.
- Address Plan – IPv6 has significantly more address space and can be intimidating and seem more complex to those unfamiliar with it than IPv4. To professionally design and deploy IPv6, careful consideration must go into the IPv6 address planning effort accounting for future growth, new services, new business initiatives and expansion. When this is done correctly, IPv6 becomes much easier to manage. If it is designed and deployed by an experienced IPv6 architect or engineer, the difference is substantial compared to someone who has limited exposure to IPv6. We recommend that this phase also include the formal request for IPv6 address allocation from the appropriate Regional Internet Registry or RIR.
The success of your IPv6 project depends on doing, at a minimum, the steps above. The investment in people (training), process (adoption plan, address plan) and technology (assessment) is what will ensure success. Remember, picking the right technology partners that support IPv6 and make the adoption of IPv6 easier is critical. If that tool can be leveraged in several areas its value is even greater to an organization. DDI tools for IPv6 fit into that category along with investing in training ensuring that your people are ready. Too many IPv6 projects stall or run into organizational or training issues and the steps above will help you avoid those pitfalls. Your network is foundational to your business, at your campus, in your data center, in public clouds and at home for your remote employees. Invest in your people and it will pay you back in dividends through network modernization, performance, and stability!