Tuesday, 15 January 2013

IPv6 – The effect on web hosting and customers

One of the biggest changes in internet infrastructure really began this year with the World IPv6 Launch in June 2012. The move to IPv6 revises the primary protocol on which the entire Internet is built, but how exactly will it affect hosting companies, those wanting to run their own website, or even general internet uses?  Should you be looking at hosting companies which have already upgraded to support IPv6 and buying a new router?
Data Center

What are IPv4 and IPv6? Why change?

The basics of Internet Protocols are actually fairly simple when you strip away the technical discussions. Just as with physical mail, sending packets of internet data requires somewhereto send from and a destination. So every device (computer, smartphone, router etc) connected to the internet requires an Internet Protocol (IP) address, along with every website.  This also applies to every website, and the current IPv4 system which was standardised at the start of the 1980s allows for a 32-bit number, which you’ll see as ‘xxx.xx.xxx.x’, regardless of whether your website can also be reached by MySite.com or your laptop is named as MyLaptop.

The problem is that this allowed for just under 4.3 billion IP addresses, which seemed plenty at the start of the 1980s. Even by the mid-1990s it was apparent that this wouldn’t be enough for future development, and then came the explosion in smartphones, tablets, games consoles and the ‘Internet of Things’ which covers everything from connected sensors in factories to internet-enabled fridges and cars.

Work on the new revision, IPv6 has gone on since the mid-90s, but given a global population of seven billion in 2011, and our multi-device lifestyle, the current range of addresses has been pretty much exhausted.
So the main reason for IPv6 is the switch to 128-bit addresses which gives an amount of possible address which is unlikely to ever run out.  It also brings other improvements to efficiency and security, but the switch to IPv6 has been a long process as it isn’t directly compatible to IPv4. In case you’re wondering, a typical IPv6 address would be ‘2001:db8:1f70:999:de8:7648:6e8’.

Hosting with IPv6:

Adoption of IPv6 should be part of your choice of hosting provider going forwards. Although IPv4 will continue to function for the foreseeable future, all new addresses will follow the IPv6 protocol. That means that you’ll need new IPv6 address assigned for your sites to function for everything that wants to visit them.
It also means some existing applications, such as FTP access to sites, will require changes to function for IPv6, so you want a host which has already worked on ensuring you still have the tools you need.
You’ll also want to ensure that in the short term, customers who do not have equipment and support for IPv6 sites can access your website via either ‘Dual-Stack’ implementation (which implements both protocols side-by-side), or Tunnelling (which puts IPv6 packets within IPv4). This latter is the option which allows the most widespread access, but does potentially introduce some latency.

IPv6 for general web users:

The gradual adoption by Internet Service Providers, hosting companies and websites has meant that IPv6 hasn’t become noted by most consumers – indeed, the hope would be that there’s minor disruption if any!
Indeed, even governments have been slow to transfer, such as the U.S. and Canada.
The important thing to remember is that IPv6 will only become adopted more widely, so when you are upgrading or replacing equipment in the future, you need to make sure it fully supports IPv6.
Most operating systems are already compatible (Windows, Linux, Mac OS, iOS etc), so really the main consideration will be when you are looking to purchase a new router. Although almost every major router manufacturer already produces IPV6 equipment it’s well worth checking before you make a purchase as not everything on the market has support built in, and the level of compatibility can vary. The good news is that IPv6 support is already reaching the £100 price bracket and will come to cheaper products very shortly.

Avoiding IP pain:

As with any change – you can minimise the potential problems with a bit of planning. Start talking to hosting providers which offer IPv6 now, and look at what solutions they have for on-going IPv4 traffic.
Make sure you don’t buy a new router without checking the IPv6 support, and you can check whether your current set-up is compatible via a handy tool from Google.
The change will continue to be gradual over the next 5 or 10 years, but the sooner you work with prepared companies and equipment, the less traumatic it will be!

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