For many in enterprise networking, IPv6 is just a distant memory of a tedious mandatory training a few years back. Weird addresses, over-eager trainer, stories about v6 adoption that never came true. Why then for the last couple of years have I been presenting to Aruba audiences about IPv6 adoption? While many network engineers maybe unaware, IPv6 is very much upon us and numerous times this year I've heard from various sources, 'What's your IPv6 strategy?'
Turning back the clock a few years and IPv6 was for the specialist or for university campuses eager to deploy the latest technology. Live deployments of IPv6 outside of academia were largely unheard of. Then came the ISP deployments across the global, in roughly 2015-2017. Now IPv6 was out in the wild and in our homes. It was this transition of IPv6 from the textbook to the live networks around us that changed the nature of the protocol and breathed life into those 128 bits.
But this was a largely silent change. No big fanfare, hashtags or broadsheet ads. No proliferation of start-ups hunting VC money. No LinkedIn profiles being updated with 'IPv6 thought-leader'. For that reason I feel many network engineers were, and still are, unaware of this change in their industry. Yet, all the while, the percentage of network traffic running over IPv6 creeps ever upwards.
Who uses IPv6?
Unsurprisingly IPv6, with its mind-blogging number of addresses, is being used to meet the new waves of demand as more and more devices are brought online, whether that be in industry with IoT or for consumers with the explosion of smartphones.
But it's not just about address space, Xbox uses IPv6 for player to player connections, telling gamers the newer protocol brings 'several improvements over IPv4', mainly because of the lack of NAT.
An increasing number of companies have their websites available via IPv6. Youtube, wikipedia and facebook are all IPv6 enabled. As are brands like Apple, BMW and Chanel. Who says IPv6 isn't cool?
That's just a few examples, I didn't mention container networking, large-scale data centre, and cloud.
But that's not my network
For many in my area of networking they can hear these stories and sit back with their 32-bits and happily declare, 'Not my network'. That maybe true, but for how long?
As the networks of cloud and ISP WANs transition to IPv6, how long will the campus networks remain an IPv4 island? Not as long as some are expecting I predict.
The early days of IPv6 were for the enthusiast, those that evangelized the need to move away from the meager 32-bit addressing space. When, for better or worse, we largely solved the lack of addressing with NAT, the IPv6 use case felt a bit thin for many.
But now we have the prospect of genuine drivers to adopt IPv6. Yes, it is addressing all those IoT nodes. Yes, it is cost of the ever-dwindling IPv4 space. But now you've got the very real prospect of v6 cloud, a v6 WAN, so how long is your site going to remain IPv4 when you can go IPv6 end-to-end?
What's your excuse
My feeling is that while the hype and marketing of present day networking marches to the tune of automation with the battle cry of 'Learn Python! Learn Ansible!', many are looking the wrong way as IPv6 is added to the list of CTO concerns. Throwing off the shackles of the CLI is a good thing, but if you're ploughing all your study time into playbooks and scripts, what happens when this is at the detriment of your IPv6 networking experience? Imagine the call comes in that a Python script needs debugging. It would quite unreasonable to hold the network engineers to account for such a task. So then what's the excuse going to be when Your Big Customer asks for an IPv6 presentation? This is networking. We networkers need to own this!
Personally I've been involved in IPv6 through customer POC testing demand since 2013. I find it curious that when tweeting anything about v6 in 2018, there was usually the nay-sayer, with the 'never gonna happen' response. The reality being that maybe 99% of enterprise networks do not run IPv6, but if you've got one customer that does, now IPv6 is your reality, it's your damn problem.
The Year of IPv6 in Campus?
There's a meme on twitter about 'The Year of Linux on the Desktop!' and it raises a healthy amount of Likes, the knowing joke of the hopeless optimist. While I'm not declaring 2019 as the Year of IPv6 in Campus, it is definitely the year that IPv6 became an agenda point for many.