Top 5 Concerns of Network Admins About Migrating to IPv6
Network administrators will soon be forced to migrate to IPv6. This is due to not only technology moving forward into a new standard, but the fact that the number of IPv4addresses is nearly exhausted. It is only a matter of time before the change is mandatory to maintain Internet connectivity.
However, this is not a common migration. There are scans to do, information to gather, and plans to make, among other tasks. In addition, for the best result, an organization needs to go through these tasks together. There will be unexpected problems, and a long list of concerns from everyone involved, but experience shows that most of the tasks will fall to the network administrator and the IT team. This document seeks to examine and assist in solving the top 5 concerns for migrating to IPv6 of network administrators.
Concern 1 – Selling the Migration Internally to CIO/CFO
The first concern is convincing management within your organization to proceed with the migration to IPv6. While the title of the concern mentions CIO or CFO, which could be correct, this could just as easily be any other decision maker in the project’s process. This concern normally arises in other projects as well for similar reasons. Not everyone is an expert on technical matters, nor should they be expected to be. As IT professionals however, it does become our responsibility to communicate our expertise effectively so those that do make decisions can make them while informed, and not based off fear, confusion, or past experiences that were not well planned or thought out. Due to IPv6 rewriting what most people know about networking, the resistance by decision makers could be even stronger.
The solution to this concern is communication. Decision makers must know exactly what is at stake in the migration and what it means for the organization. This means studying themigration from multiple perspectives that your decision maker will likely want to know about, and doing your homework twice so you are prepared for questions and other unexpected situations. It should also be noted that while the communication should not attempt to scare the decision maker into a choice, results and consequences are a part of this migration and must be communicated. Techniques for communication should also be utilized such as targeting the audience with a style that makes them comfortable (dress, bound presentation, etc), and one that eliminates confusion while still being effective (not using too much jargon, relating back to other principles besides IT). Communicate effectively, and this concern should be easier to deal with.
Concern 2 – The Cost
Cost can include monetary assets, but also personnel and time. The migration to IPv6 will take all 3, but more so of personnel and time. A large amount of planning will be needed to get through the project as quickly as possible, and have everything working at the end. With planning come the people to perform that function. Any monetary cost may include new equipment or servers, and should be considered. However, we will focus on the other 2 costs as they will likely be significantly larger.
Having the correct personnel on the project can help reduce cost. These personnel will need to be efficient at their tasks, communicate well, and have a variety of experience and points of view (not so much into other departments besides IT yet, but good to have nonetheless). The faster a plan can be written and proposed, the fewer hours and people it takes, reducing cost. Within this plan, it is also recommended to combine projects. Once the migration over to IPv6 begins, it can be combined with other projects running such as PC replacement. This will perform two tasks at once, removing the need to revisit a project already completed, saving cost. Many of these ideas are already in use in many businesses to save cost through the same or similar means. You can also consult project managers or other organization resources for more ideas.
From the monetary cost standpoint, most of it will be either new equipment to perform specific IPv6 functions, or for new equipment not IPv6 compatible. However, one specific cost to consider is an IPAM solution, which is a software suite that can index, search, and analyze an existing network IP address scheme. It is specifically mentioned here for its functionality, and should likely be mentioned as a topic of discussion in any team meeting or presentation.
When dealing with the concern of cost, remember it includes more than money. It is any resource that will be used from the organization. Time and personnel are costs that should always be seriously considered. Consulting other business leaders on conserving cost is a good step, along with having good team members working on the project, and even soliciting ideas can help. At the very least, always try to never come in over cost.
Concern 3 – Complexity
Migrating to IPv6 will be very complex. It will involve all departments of the organization, or at least all of them that use computers, and every piece of equipment connected to the network at any time. Then consider that the migration will be made over time, and that everyone needs to be on the same page working together for the best outcome and smoothest transition. Now the complexity can be seen a little better. There are other factors such as compatibility with IPv6 and clearing out IPv4, but those are discussed later.
For right now, let’s deal with just the complexity issue rather than technical details. There are several different ways to work through a complex issue, and it always involves planning. In order to ensure nothing is missed, a plan must be created that will detail information such as timelines, groups of devices to be migrated, priorities, etc. In doing so, you can break the complex situation into more manageable pieces that are easier to work on and communicate to the rest of the organization. Again, IPAM can assist with this task by creating reports that can be interpreted and used in the planning process.
This is only a brief look at the potential complexity. It can be taken even further by different makes and models of equipment that coexist on the network. But to deal with the concern, the best bet is to reduce the complexity. You can do this by planning out your migration by groups, devices, time, or whatever works best for you. The important part is that everyone agrees on it, and it is something the organization can live with in terms of effectiveness for the business process. It should also be sure to have every single component on the network, and be followed, checked, and updated as needed throughout the migration project.
Concern 4 – Dealing with Legacy System Issues
Legacy systems can be defined basically as older systems. They likely are missing some common functionality from current technology, but still exist because they perform a key or important function for the organization just fine, thus there is no reason to replace it. With IPv6 migration, there may be a reason now.
When an organization migrates to IPv6, the devices on the network need to be able to have an IPv6 address, along with their existing IPv4 address (a technique known as dual-stacking). If the device cannot utilize a v6 address, it will eventually cause conflicts and problems in not being able to be found or communicate properly. It is possible to temporarily force it to use v4 only, but once the network continues to evolve and migrate further towards IPv6, it will progressively lose more and more communication with the network until it is gone.
The best way to deal with legacy systems is simply analyzing them for compatibility. Knowing that this can take up significant resources given volume of equipment, IPAM can help. By scanning and detailing the network, it can help determine compatibility for devices connected to the network, and provide a report. This is highly recommended not only for this function, but to assist in keeping addressing correct during migration.
This may sound like a simple solution, and to a point it is. However, it is inevitable that an important piece of equipment will not be compatible. At that time, the migration plan to IPv6 expands to include all of these devices, which must be planned for migration themselves and implemented on a complimentary schedule to the entire migration. The sooner the compatibility of all devices can be determined the better, as it will allow for a timeline to be determined, and a better view of the scope for the entire IPv6 migration.
Concern 5 – Cleaning Current IPv4 Inventory
The final concern is getting rid of IPv4 inventory. For many network administrators, this will involve getting new equipment, implementing it, hanging onto the old equipment temporarily for backup purposes, then getting rid of it. But it is more than just equipment. Inventory in this case should also include services such as DNS and DHCP, both of which change or are removed with IPv6. This is also the final step of IPv6 migration where IPv4 is removed from the network, so while it should still be a concern, there is a decent amount of time before this happens.
To counter this concern, planning is still the key. However, at this point it is less about the plan itself, and more about executing it. By this stage, dual-stacking should be fully implemented and all non-compatible devices either replaced or their purpose moved to a compatible device. Then DHCP can be turned off for IPv4, and all devices with static addresses having their IPv4 addresses removed. This is where the concern comes in. If one device is missed at this point, it will immediately lose all communication with the network if it has not already. Add in the sheer volume of devices this may have to be done for, and suddenly the scope grows even more.
Aside from proper planning and execution, there are other ways to counter this concern. First, the objective is turning off IPv4, which can be accomplished through network management tools like Group Policy or configuration distribution programs. IPAM can also help by showing if there are any devices still not compatible with IPv6, and which devices are not yet utilizing v6. Of course, with any major network change, backups are also very important so if the system does completely crash, it can be recovered with minimal loss. Testing environments for these methods is encouraged, and always check with manufacturers to ensure that reboots or other strange actions will not result from suddenly removing that communication method from items like servers and firewalls. Naturally, schedule downtime is an absolute must, no way this should ever be done under any circumstance during business hours, especially the service shutdown.
However, at a certain point, you can only prepare for so long before there is no more to do, and the only step left is to remove IPv4 inventory from your network. At that time, double check backups and all the reports to ensure it is correct, then press the button so to speak. Once IPv4 is removed from the network, there is no time limit on actually removing the physical inventory. Without the capability to communicate with v4, the devices will simply not function and do not pose a threat to the network connectivity or as a security risk.
These are only what are considered to be the top 5 concerns with IPv6 migration, specific only to network administrators. There are many other challenges and concerns within this project as well. But with each of those, and the 5 seen here, there are some basic strategies that can minimize the impact of them.
Communication is always important, especially within the organization. This migration is everyone’s concern, so why not involve them. Of course not everyone will be involved at every stage, but it helps to build a team environment. With that communication comes planning and understanding so everyone will be together on the project. Use the resources available within the organization as well as the ones outside such as the IPAM.
Regardless of the approach, the entire migration will take time, resources, and planning. There will be meeting after meeting, and a huge amount of information gathered and utilized. By working together in your organization, you can make these top 5 concerns, and all the others not mentioned here have less impact on the project, and have a higher chance of a successful migration.