Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

Data Centers & IPv6: Why It Matters to You

With the number of available IP addresses dwindling, IPv6 has been introduced. This column explains the basis for the move as well as why data center managers and staff will need to be versed in the changes that are happening.

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Richard Donaldson is the CEO and Co-Founder of 6connect, a network automation company, located in Palo Alto, Calif. that provides network automation tools  emphasizing IPv6 implementations.




TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is the technology that devices use to interact. IP addresses are the unique identifier that devices use to communicate to each other over the Global Internet. At the inception of the Internet, IP version 4 (IPv4) was and is currently the most widespread protocol used to communicate. By their binary nature, IP addresses are a finite resource. IPv4, specifically, is approaching full deployment globally. The keeper of the free address pool, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, (IANA), is fully depleted of IPv4 resources.

Also, the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Registry, 1 of the 5 regional registries that report to IANA, is fully depleted of IPv4 resources. Another, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, (ARIN), is not far behind. To continue the operation of the Internet, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) was created. This address space is vast--more than 170 undecillion addresses--and unlikely to be depleted in the next 50 years. Networks wishing to grow, or new networks wishing to enter the market, must transition to include both IPv6 and IPv4, eventually transitioning entirely to the new protocol.



Coundown to IPv6 - Graphic shows that the number of Internet addresses available is reaching zero. Click for larger image.

This evolution will require an entirely new paradigm of IP resource management and will affect all things wishing to communicate via the Internet - including everything inside your data center from HVACs to lights, security to VFDs. Simply put, this protocol is something you need to know about, even if  you don’t need to become a network engineer.

Data centers have been evolving at a very rapid pace since the mid 2000s. We’ve seen significant effort and results in energy efficiencies through the reduction of PUE from industry averages of 2.0 (1) to designs that now claim below 1.2 and even 1.1. This effort has primarily focused on both mechanical and electrical efficiency gains such as hot/cold row containment, direct/indirect evaporative cooling, the move away from raised floors, the move to higher voltage power supplies in servers thereby avoiding step down losses, and much, much more.

Transparency Has Helped Industry Become More Evolved

The data center industry has further benefited from more transparency provided by data center experts like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and now Facebook. These forward thinking companies have opened their “kimonos” so to speak, shedding light on their work, data, and future designs so that all data center operators can learn from others' experiences.

As the industry continues to collect and share data, more and more points of control (both hard and soft) will yield ever more data that can be analyzed for more efficiency gains. However, we must put the data center “on a network” to begin to harvest the data and then crunch it. So while 2005-2010 might have been the years of deconstructing myths around data center designs, 2011 and beyond will be the years of wiring the data center into the network, which necessitates a knowledge of the upcoming transition from IPv4 to IPv6 and what to look for on a "going forward" basis.

IPv4 and IPv6 Are Different

IPv4 and IPv6 are not compatible. If you take anything away from this article, this is the most significant. This means that any device that wishes to be “online” must be compatible with both protocols for some time to work properly. To clarify, the world network operators will be “dual stacking” these protocols for some time. This means that both IPv4 and IPv6 will concurrently run on the same wires, even though they do not interact. In fact, any modern operating system and/or browser is actually IPv6 ready today, and run both IPv4 and IPv6 simultaneous - check out of TCP/IP settings and you’ll see that you should have both types of addresses already.

While both protocols will be running together for some time, not all hardware or connection points support this concept of "dual stacking." It is imperative to know this as a data center operator as you begin to assess either how to bring your current infrastructure online and/or design/spec future builds so that all equipment selections support both protocols. Even if you are running other protocols like BacNET or ModBus or LON, eventually those will be translated into IP traffic so as to universally communicate with the servers or people tasked with monitoring or tracking this data and this will be on the Internet.

I hope this article has shed light upon a little known yet profound change that is underway with respect to the Internet at large and how it will affect data centers. The intent is to enable data center operators and designers to ask their vendors about IPv6 support as well as begin to understand the implications of how monitoring, securing, reporting, maintenance, and even availability are affected by the newer IPv6.

(1) According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2006 U.S. data centers had, on average, a PUE of 2.0 or higher, a number the agency expects to decline to 1.9 by 2011.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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