IPv6: Putting Technology to Work for IoT
So, what does this number represent?
The number of stars in our galaxy? Nope. That would be in the neighborhood of 100-400 billion. The number of results from Googling “Pizza?” Nope. That would be closer to 645 million. The number of available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses with IP version 6?
The Internet of Things
Not many technology trends in recent history have received as much hype as the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, there has been so much hype it has spawned a big brother, the Internet of Everything (IoE).
Words like avalanche, explosion, wildfire and tsunami have all been used to describe the growth in the number of “things” that will soon be “talking” to each other in ways that promise to make all our lives better. How many things? Depending on whose estimate you believe, by 2020, the number could be anywhere between 20 and 200 billion. And, while it is clearly overhyped right now, I believe there are IoT use cases that will provide undeniable value and will forever change the way we work, live and play.
IP version 6 (IPv6)
Let’s return to the original IP version 4 (IPv4) Internet addressing schema, with its 32-bit address space, and compare it to the 128-bit IPv6. To illustrate the scaling challenge, look at this comparison of the number of addresses available in each:
- IPv4: 4,300,000,000
- IPv6: 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
In other words, we’re going from 4.3 billion addresses on the Internet to 340 undecillion. One IPv6 subnet is approximately the square of the entire IPv4 space. Where an IPv4 address was simple (192.168.172.105), IPv6 addresses will be far more complex (2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1). This will bring an enormous change in everything we do today, from how we architect the network, to how we do address planning, to the ongoing management of the connected devices.
Just beyond all the numbers and hype around the IoT are a bunch of dedicated network architects and engineers who are busy implementing IPv6. For several reasons, IPv6 is considered a requirement for the IoT to reach its full potential. Here are a few of my favorite IPv6 features:
Scalability is the most-mentioned advantage of using IPv6 for the IoT. This is kind of a no-brainer since all of the roughly 4.3 billion addresses available with the current version of the Internet Protocol (IPv4) have been exhausted. With 3.4×10^38 available addresses, IPv6 provides enough addresses to connect thousands of devices for every man, women and child on the planet with plenty left over for some extraterrestrials.
Reachability refers to the ability of network-connected devices to find and “talk” directly to each other. Because IPv4 addresses have been in short supply for years, there are Network Address Translation (NAT) servers installed in virtually every private network. This makes it tough or even impossible for most IPv4-connected devices to talk directly to each other. IPv6 will allow every connected device to be uniquely addressable, which eliminates the need for the NAT servers and greatly simplifies peer-to-peer reachability.
Mobility allows an endpoint to keep a virtual connection to one network while being physically connected to another network. For example, if you are traveling with an IPv6-enabled device and connect to a remote network, your device will appear as if it were connected to your “home” network. This feature can enhance security. And while IPv4 can provide mobility using third-party software, this functionality is built into IPv6.
Self-configuration gives endpoints the ability to generate their own IPv6 address without human intervention. Since many IoT deployments will involve a lot of “things,” it's important to automate as many configuration tasks as possible. Having been responsible for maintaining an IPv4 “master spreadsheet,” I can attest that this feature will surely reduce cost and complexity.
For all the reasons mentioned above and more, migrating to IPv6 is critical to the success of the IoT. There is still a ton of work to get done and, realistically, this migration could take up to 10 years. I’m creating roadmaps to help clients navigate their journey to IPv6, and I’m always open to new ideas and creative solutions.
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