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What is IPv6 and why does it matter?

We have all been amazed by how quickly the internet has taken off, and how much this has changed our daily work and personal lives.

Thinking back only 18 years Email was only just being adopted by some of the more forward-thinking companies and internet access was only available to a small proportion of staff.

The addressing scheme for the internet was first published in 1981 and was designed to cater for 4.3 billion addresses, and this became known as an Internet Protcol Address (IP Address). We are probably all familiar with home networks using IP addresses like 192.168.0.11, and these are IP addresses now known as IPv4 addresses.

In the early 1990's it became aparrent that this addressing scheme would not be enough and work was undertaken to develop a new Internet Protocol which was first formally published in December 1998 and has become known as IPv6.IPv6 caters for a vastly increased addressing scheme (providing 3.4 x 1038 addresses), and also a number of other features which ease addressing and configuration. This is intended to be more than enough addresses (estimated at a billion billion addresses for every grain of sand on the planet).

IPv6 addresses are written as groups of digits separated by colons (e.g. 2001:25da:1000:0000:0000:0000:0000:7334), and groups of zeros can be abbreviated (e.g. 2001:25da:1000::7334) which makes them a lot more readable.

Since publication of the IPv6 standard much work has been done by equipment vendors, internet carriers and internet service providers. The majority of new hardware now support IPv6 fully, and the internet backbone (the network that communicates between countries and providers) now largely supports IPv6 along with a number of notable service providers publishing their services on IPv6 as well as IPv4 (Google is probably the best known example of this). 

Why Does this Matter?

During the development of IPv6 it was not possible to allow full interoperability with the existing IPv4 scheme. Therefore effectively all internet services have to be able to communicate on the new IPv6 scheme before the IPv4 system can be decommissioned.

To ensure that everyone can continue to communicate across the internet everyone has to move towards using IPv6 before the IPv4 address space is exhausted. The date when IPv4 addresses are exhausted is being delayed through various technologies and the recovery of unused IPv4 addresses, but the date is still fast approaching.

By deploying a dual stack arrangement (where all systems are addressed using IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and can communicate with either/both protocols), a gradual migration can be achieved. [There are other migration arrangements, but forthe sake of simplicity I'll leave these out of this article for the time being].

Google has led the way with offering IPv6 services for a number of years now, but as of June 2014 only 4% of traffic reaching Google was IPv6, with the remaining 96% using IPv4.

To ensure that everyone can continue to communicate across the internet the entire internet community has to move towards using IPv6 as soon as possible, and Blue Sky Systems took a decision early on that we would support 100% dual stack IPv4/IPv6 across all our systems, ensuring that we lead the field in the move to IPv6.

ipv6 ready