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How to sell IPv6 to your senior management

Every network administrator should be planning their institution’s move to IPv6. But it will take time and resources. So, what’s the business case that will make your CEO listen?

David Holder of Erion, and Tim Chown, network development manager at Jisc, set out the compelling reasons CEOs will care about.

When IPv4 was first deployed in the 1970s, the 32-bit address format, offering a theoretical four billion addresses, seemed quite reasonable for what was then an experiment connecting a few dozen computers.

The global uptake of the internet, which is still in its relative infancy in some areas, has proven otherwise. While the web was the primary driver for growth, the future internet looks set to embrace whole new application domains of networked devices, including the Internet of Things (IoT).

The unallocated IPv4 address pool became exhausted in February 2011 and although, within Janet, most academic sites already have enough IPv4 address space to meet their immediate needs, now is the time to think about when and how to introduce IPv6.

It’s never too early to begin planning, but a good business case is essential – here are seven reasons to help you sell IPv6 to senior managers.

1. IPv4 is now degraded, complex and expensive

The relatively benign techniques that have been used since the 1990s to extend the life of IPv4 have reached the limits of what they can do. The techniques in use now have a much greater negative impact on end user experience, the things they’re able to do and the way they’re able to operate.

Today’s IPv4 service is a degraded one that’s more complex to manage and operate and incurs increased costs. Even if your institution has enough IPv4 addresses to run your own organisation, the deployment of these new techniques outside of your network will impact the connections that others make to your services.

The business and other educational establishments that you partner with, your students and prospective students who are deciding whether to apply to you will all be impacted. The performance, reliability and security of your service is being impacted right now.

2. IPv4 is making analytics harder

It is increasingly important for universities and colleges to understand and analyse their student data. An IP address can potentially be a useful identifier by which to correlate a given user’s activity.

With IPv4, before its exhaustion of addresses, you could do that fairly easily Now, it has become much harder. Users are being aggregated together behind single IP addresses. Data that might once have revealed the location of an individual person might now only be able to tell you they’re in a set of 100, 1,000, or even more people; IPv4 address sharing is increasingly common.

The resolution, which is incredibly important to analytics, has gone. You are losing valuable analytical information and you don’t even know you are losing it. IPv6 solves this problem.

3. Teaching and research

Google stats show that about 20% of the access to Google services is over IPv6. In the US, more than 50% of mobile data traffic is over IPv6. All graduates will now be emerging from university into a commercial world where no new IPv4 address space is available, and IPv6 is increasingly present in the networks and organisations in which they will work.

Student exposure to IPv6 while studying should be considered a significant benefit. Likewise, your computer science department is likely to find IPv6 very useful to support its research activities.

4. Student expectations

In the last 12-18 months both Sky and BT in the UK have deployed IPv6 for residential customers – so now five to 10 million residential customers in the UK get IPv6 in their domestic network (alongside IPv4 as a dual stack).

With so much network traffic to Facebook, YouTube, Netflix etc, around half of that home network’s traffic might typically go over IPv6. If your staff and students are seeing it at home, won’t they expect it on campus?

5. Institutional visibility

While in the home you might see IPv6 running alongside IPv4, some countries are deploying IPv6-only access networks. As a university, if you want to make your content available as robustly as possible to those places and not have to rely on translation in the network, then making your services available over both IPv4 and IPv6 is the sensible thing to do.

Facebook and Google began dual stacking their services in 2012 and other providers such as Netflix, LinkedIn and Dropbox have followed suit.

6. Security

IPv6 support now ships as standard in all common PC, laptop, tablet, phone and router platforms, and is almost invariably enabled by default. There is a good security case to be made for a site administrator to control the usage of IPv6 on their network before more 'adventurous' or malicious users do so themselves.

The key message here is that IPv6 is in your network now, whether you formally support it or not. Deploying IPv6 is the best way to gain control of that aspect of the security of your network.

7. Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is presenting challenges on a number of fronts. At the infrastructure level, it is creating an explosion in the number and variety of devices that all need unique addresses. At a funding level (and IoT is a hot topic), all of the main IoT protocols and standards bodies are moving to IPv6 based solutions as their primary protocol.

There is a strong case for ensuring you have an appropriate network environment to support IPv6 research on your campus, as a precursor to later deployment as devices move to market.

Made a successful case?

If you have the go-ahead then an orderly, planned deployment should be the goal. Win the business case, get IPv6 properly into procurement tenders and roll out the capability.

IPv6 can then be enabled in the core of the network and exposed to users in selected initial areas, such as public facing web services, on eduroam wifi or in a computer science department, for example