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The 7 Best Practices for Transitioning to an IPv6 Infrastructure. 

In this article we provide seven best practices for transition to IPv6, starting with a detailed assessment of the current network, readiness evaluation, and strategic planning.

Throughout the article, we also stress the importance of IT staff training, and pilot testing for real-world implementation insights. Additionally, we also recommend taking a cautious, segmented rollout to ensure a smooth transition and minimize operational disruptions.

The 7 best practices to transitioning to IPv6

Transitioning to IPv6: Limitations and Benefits.

IPv6 infrastructure encompasses all the network components and services designed to support IPv6. Such components and services include anything from networking hardware, servers, devices, IoT, security devices, ISPs, addressing and DNS, software applications, and more.

Transitioning to IPv6 infrastructure from IPv4 can be complex and challenging (see the list with steps to transition and migrate to IPv6). The process involves upgrading hardware, training staff, planning for dual-stack operation, and updating routing policies.

So, why should we migrate to IPv6?

  • IPv4 Limitations: IPv4 has a limited address space of 4 billion addresses (which is not enough for the world’s 7.9 billion people, growing IoT devices, and tech giants). Additionally, in compliance with ICANN’s policies, IANA distributed the last five /8 IPv4 address blocks to each RIR back on February 3, 2011, depleting its address pool. Although we have extended this limitation using techniques like NAT, CGNAT, CIDR, and more; these are just temporary solutions. 
  • IPv6 Benefits: IPv6 provides a vastly expanded address space with 128-bit addresses, supporting the internet’s growth and connected devices. Plus, IPv6, being different from IPv4 also provides other benefits aside from more address space, such as performance, security, and cost savings.
  • Avoid Risks: Not migrating to IPv6 may lead to difficulties communicating with networks, websites, and public services. Plus, complicated network architecture (such as using more NAT appliances) and limited public IPv4 addresses will hinder business growth. See, why IPv6 does not rely on NAT.

The 7 Best Practices to Transition to IPv6 Infrastructure

  1. Analyze Your Use Case.
  2. Assess IPv6 Readiness.
  3. Training IT on IPv6.
  4. Choose Your IPv6 Transition Strategy.
  5. Design Your IPv6 Network.
  6. Consider a Pilot Deployment.
  7. Deploy in Gradual Shifts.

1. Analyze Your Use Case.

Transitioning to IPv6 requires evaluating your particular use case and unique requirements. Of course, this evaluation varies across industries and organizations. Knowing your particular use case in advance can help you determine the scope, priorities, and potential impact of IPv6 adoption. Additionally, this can enable you to tailor your migration strategy and minimize disruptions.

Do you need IPv6? Do you need to migrate completely to IPv6? Well, this largely depends on factors such as your network size, growth projections, technological requirements, industry regulations, and future scalability considerations. However, as IPv4 addresses continue to run out and connectivity demand increases, IPv6 adoption will eventually be a must. 

So what are a few use cases of applications benefiting from IPv6? 

  • Growing IoT Ecosystems
  • Mobile Networks.
  • Cloud Services and Data Centers
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
  • Content Providers and Websites
  • Enterprise Networks
  • Government and Public Sector

Who might not need IPv6 right away? 

The transition to IPv6 is slow, because the IPv4 addressing scheme is still pretty solid and is not going anytime soon. So, before jumping into IPv6, consider whether IPv6 is necessary before making the transition. It may not be cost-effective or necessary for some businesses with simple network setups and networks without IPv6 compatibility. Plus, organizations relying on legacy systems without IPv6 support may delay adoption. In addition, private networks with limited connectivity may still manage with IPv4. For Internet accessability, some ISPs already support IPv6 connectivity through NAT (see IPv6 case studies), making it possible to continue using IPv4 internally.

2. Assess IPv6 Readiness.

Audit and inventory your network infrastructure before moving to IPv6. This inventory should cover network devices, servers, and IT assets for IPv6 deployment readiness. Key considerations are software version compatibility, hardware capabilities, and dependencies. By assessing your IT ecosystem, you can devise a migration strategy for your business. With this assessment, you can also identify roadblocks, and prioritize upgrades. 

How to assess your current network?

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of your current network infrastructure to identify IPv4 and IPv6 capabilities, needs, and gaps.
  • Inventory network devices, applications, services, and protocols to determine their readiness, compatibility, and support for IPv6.
  • Evaluate network performance, security, and scalability under IPv4 and IPv6 scenarios to establish migration goals and priorities.

What tools or software can you use to assess IPv6 readiness?

  • Network inventory, monitoring, or management tools. Examples of these tools that have auto-scanning, inventorying, and network management capabilities are PRTG Network Monitor, SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, or Nagios Core. 
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP): MAP is a free Microsoft tool that helps assess a business’s readiness for various IT initiatives, including IPv6 adoption. 
  • IPv6 Readiness Checklist: An IPv6 readiness checklist is a valuable tool so that you can systematically assess, plan, and execute your transition to IPv6. This checklist will help you ensure a smooth and successful migration process.

3. Training IT on IPv6.

Before you get started (or to get your IT started) it is essential to get the foundations of IPv6 right. If you have an in-house network admin or engineer then they should be more than armed with the IPv6 concepts. Bear in mind that they must also know about advanced topics like routing protocols, security and services. Plus, they should be capable of transmitting these concepts to the general IT staff. If you don’t have in-house networking experts, have your IT staff pursue relevant certifications such as CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE, CompTIA Network+, and MCSE Core Infrastructure.

Plus, it is also helpful to engage with local IPv6 Forum groups and related online communities. In addition participate in events and training offered by regional entities, like the North American IPv6 Task Force, including IPv6 Canada and the California IPv6 Task Force. 

Also, consider checking for industry events, including the North American IPv6 Summit, to provide educational opportunities on deployment strategies. There are also fantastic online resources like the TeamARIN IPv6 Wiki, Deploy 360 IPv6 Training, and regional internet registries’ training materials (such as ARIN IPv6 Info Center and the RIPE NCC IPv6 Act Now). All these resources (can be free to some extent) and offer a great deal of knowledge of IPv6 addressing, configuration, routing, tunneling, multicast services, and security.

4. Choose Your IPv6 Transition Strategy.

An IPv6 transition (or migration) mechanism enables the coexistence of IPv4 and IPv6 networks during the IPv6 transition period. The overall idea of using these mechanisms (technologies or methods) is to ensure interoperability and continuity of services as your organization migrates from IPv4 to IPv6.

Why go for a transition mechanism and not directly to full IPv6?

Indeed, the ultimate goal is a full adoption of IPv6. However, transition mechanisms offer a pragmatic and phased approach to migration. They allow you to manage risks, maintain compatibility, and ensure operational continuity throughout the transition process.

The three primary approaches facilitate this migration: Dual Stack, Tunneling, and Translation. Each method offers advantages and drawbacks. Below is a table for closer examination:

Transition MethodDescriptionProsCons
Dual StackAllows easy communication between IPv4 and IPv6 within a shared network infrastructure. Supports both IPv4 and IPv6. Allows gradual migration to IPv6 and  ensures connectivity across different networks.It is resource-intensive. Its configuration is complex and is a temporary solution.
TunnelingEnables IPv6 traffic over IPv4 infrastructure.Facilitates gradual transition to IPv6. This mechanism is useful for temporary and legacy  connectivity solutions.May introduce latency and overhead. It is still dependent on IPv4. Complexity in long-term management.
TranslationConverts packet headers between IPv4 and IPv6 formats. Translations may happen at a gateway or proxy (at the network edge)Enables direct communication between IPv4 and IPv6. Streamlines phased adoption of IPv6. Supports existing IPv4 devices. May introduce issues with certain protocols and applications. Not a long-term solution and complex management. 

Learn more about IPv6 migration mechanisms in (IPv6 transition mechanisms)

What is the best method for an IPv6 transition? The best method to transition (dual stack, tunneling, or translation) depends on your network requirements and resources. So, it depends on the network size, device availability, cost, and security concerns. Plus, each technique offers different benefits and considerations. In general, the best but least cost-efficient transition method is to building a native IPv6 network during hardware refresh cycles, while your network supports dual stack operations.

5. Design Your IPv6 Network.

When designing an IPv6 network, it’s crucial to plan for scalability. Do this by allocating a /48 prefix per site or customer and organizing addresses hierarchically. Additionally, security should be a priority from the outset. Always, keep in mind IPv6-specific policies, secure configurations for router advertisements, and DHCPv6. And, if possible, your network design should embrace a zero-trust model.

Note: At all costs avoid clinging to IPv4 methodologies. Do not apply IPv4 subnetting practices to IPv6 and avoid using NAT66 if necessary. 

As you transition, your network should also support dual-stack operations for IPv4/IPv6 coexistence, and automate configurations to streamline processes. In addition, always ensure your routing protocols are IPv6-compatible and optimize network performance by adjusting MTU settings and utilizing IPv6 multicasts. Smooth transition mechanisms like NAT64/DNS64 are important for interoperability, but they shouldn’t be long-term solutions. 

Here are a few tips for IPv6 network architecting and subnetting by a guide from LACNIC.

  1. Enable auto-configuration for link-local addresses network-wide to simplify the IPv6 network management, reduce errors, and ensure consistent connectivity.
  2. Geographic distribution-based subnetting aligns IPv6 deployment with physical geography. This can help improve efficiency and scalability.
  3. Use SLAAC and DHCPv6 for IP assignment if possible to improve IP management and network flexibility.
  4. Keep prefix lengths a multiple of 4, with a minimum of /64 for LAN segments, for optimal network performance.
  5. Prioritize prefix aggregation to simplify routing, boost network performance, and ease management for a cleaner routing environment.
  6. Don’t unnecessarily block ICMPv6; it’s vital for IPv6 network functions. Allow ICMPv6 messages while limiting rates to mitigate risks.

6. Testing Phase: Consider a Pilot Deployment.

Before diving full into IPv6, start with a small-scale pilot deployment to test IPv6 functionality and compatibility. Do this for non-production environents and avoid testing production environments.

Begin with a pilot project (a controlled environment) that involves baby steps. Use this small and isolated segment of your network, such as a lab, a branch, or a department (a network that wouldn’t hurt your business or production) for testing. 

In addition, dont forget to test your IPv6 network functionality, performance, security, and interoperability with your IPv4 network (both internal or external). Also dont forget to have monitoring and troubleshooting systems in place, as without a doubt issues or errors will arise.

How to create a pilot deployment? 

  • Use virtualization tools for flexible testing environments. Examples are Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware Fusion, or Oracle VirtualBox.
  • Consider network admin tools such as Cisco Packet Tracer or GNS3 for network simulation and Wireshark for traffic analysis.
  • Utilize IPv6-capable security scanners like Nmap (Network Scanner) or Nessus (Network Vulnerability Scanner) to learn more about your IPv6 network. Also, learn bout your IPv6 security by testing IPv6 with firewalls and ACLs.
  • Dont forget to use the network monitoring tools shared before such as SolarWinds or PRTG or implement systems like SNMPv3 and Syslog for IPv6 monitoring.
  • Use troubleshooting tools like Ping6 and Tracert6 for issue resolution. And don’t forget to document all your pilot project and gather feedback for improvements and live expansion. 

Only then (once tested within a controlled environment) gradually expand your IPv6 network to other segments of your network until you reach full deployment.

7. Deploy in Gradual Shifts and Not a Big-Bang Shift

If you have already tested IPv6 deployments in pilot project, your next step is to gradually introduce IPv6 in your production environment. A gradual rollout allows you to tailor the process to your needs and risks. Doing this ‘careful rollout’ allows you to have a response-expecting and fully IPv6-networking prospect. 

A measured and gradual shift (in contrast to the big-bang shift) reduces potential resistance (from users), compliance, and security risks while achieving successful network modernization. This measured transition results in a strong, long-enduring, and whole IPv6-cooperative linking.

Here are a few best practices to ensure a gradual and successful shift. 

  • Upgrade external-facing services and then move to internal networks. Focus on upgrading the network edge to IPv6 for essential services and applications. Change IPv6 for edge services like email (see IPv6 email infrastructure), gateways, DNS, web servers, etc should be easier, as most of those already support IPv6. Then move to internal networks, department by department. 
  • IPv6 for New Services: Deploy IPv6 exclusively for new services or applications. This approach reduces the complexity of retrofitting existing services and leverages IPv6 for growth areas.
  • IPv6 does not need NAT, but it can be your friend as you transition. NAT ensures a secure IPv4 network for IPv4-reliant or legacy devices or services. A phased approach ensures a secure IPv4 network for devices or services still reliant on IPv6.
  • Maintain your IPv6 network. Monitor and measure network performance. Use tools for IPv6 traffic, performance, and issue resolution. Also update devices, apps, and services for IPv6 support. Review and revise network design and address plan as the network evolves.
  • Coordinate with your ISP. To ensure a smooth transition to IPv6, collaborate with your ISP. Check with them and confirm IPv6 support, test connectivity and security, plan deployment, and monitor performance.

Final Words.

Transitioning to IPv6 is crucial for future-proofing networks. Plus, it is needed now more than ever, since IPv4 addresses have already been exhausted. A gradual, informed approach can help your organization navigate complexities while reaping benefits and mitigating risks. 

The 7 best practices discussed in this article include: analyzing use cases, assessing readiness, choosing a transition strategy, designing the network, training staff, and implementing a pilot and gradual deployment.

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About Diego Asturias

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Diego Asturias is a tech journalist who translates complex tech jargon into engaging content. He has a degree in Internetworking Tech from Washington DC, US, and tech certifications from Cisco, McAfee, and Wireshark. He has hands-on experience working in Latin America, South Korea, and West Africa. He has been featured in SiliconANGLE Media, Cloudbric, Pcwdld, Hackernoon, ITT Systems, SecurityGladiators, Rapidseedbox, and more.