IPv6 For Small Business Arrives

With everything you have to contend with running a small business, you probably don’t know that the Internet is running of IP addresses. You might not even really care. Except that eventually it will affect you, so listen up. The protocol that let’s you find a Web site (or have customers find yours) is called IPv4, and there are a limited number of addresses, most of which are already in use. See this article for more background info on the issue.

The proposed solution is an expanded protocol called IPv6, but because this is technology, and therefore inherently incapable of being simple, IPv4 and IPv6 don’t play well together; they need some sort of tool to make them cooperate. But that’s for the federal government and big business to deal with and not something that smaller enterprise or even home office users can do anything about, right?

Not so fast. A 20-person startup called Hexago is set to debut a solution called HAP6 (Home Access Proxy). It’s targeted for small office and home users and promises to provide interoperability between IPv4 and IPv6-enabled devices.

“It brings connectivity to the whole internet opening up the pee- to-peer connectivity paradigm that brings IPv6’s higher address space so everything can be directly connected to everything,” Hexago’s vice president of product management, said Paul Charron.

With IPv4, which is the standard Internet IP protocol in use by hundreds of millions of people today, address space is finite at 4.3 billion addresses.

The solution that has been used with IPv4 is to virtually create more address space by deploying Network Address Translation (NAT) behind the firewall. That means local users get a locally translated or “NAT’ed” IP address, usually something like 192.168.x.y.

IPv6, by contrast, has significantly more address spaces available, thanks to its 128-bit address pool compared to the 32-bits of space deployed with IPv4. That means IPv6 has enough room for approximately 3.4×10 38 unique IP addresses, which works out to about 360,382,386,120,984,643,363,377,707,131,268,210,929 possible addresses.

The workaround that NAT provides with IPv4 shortfalls also has significant limitations, such as security and bandwidth issues. “NAT has been wrongly or rightly providing some security, [but] you’re hiding behind its weaknesses. With IPv6 you have different challenges, though most of the same rules apply,” Charron said.

With IPv6, every device can get its own unique IP, which could provide greater connectivity and collaboration options. Chabon noted that IPv6 deployment includes deploying an embedded firewall at the device level, which device makers are now starting to provide.

HAP6 builds on Hexago’s existing Gateway6 technology, which Charron described as a transition technology that allows users to connect existing IPv4 networks to IPv6. HAP6 adds plug and play IPv6 to IPv4 device interoperability, which is what will make IPv6 usable by the masses.

But when IPv6 will actually be deployed by the masses is another story. Charron guessed that the IPv4 address space will be exhausted in the next three to four years, an estimate other tech working groups have noted as well. The U.S. government is working on a June 2008 mandate to switch over its core network services to IPv6. It’s an effort that could cost as much as $75 billion, according to some estimates.

Hexago’s Charron expects the federal mandate will help accelerate the wider adoption of IPv6. In addition to the HAP6 technology, Hexago also offers a free IPv6 service called Freenet6, which provides IPv6 connectivity for those that want to try out IPv6. The Freenet6 service was launched late last year and, according to Charron, it has already garnered over 22,000 users.

“The paradigm for addressing is totally different with IPv6 than IPv4 so people don’t see the limit,” Charron said. “But we’ll probably manage to eventually use all of it too.”

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