Signal to employers that you’re at the top of your game by learning IPv6 now
Guest blog post by Jonathan S. Weissman
ARIN reached the true technical IPv4 Exhaustion on September 24, 2015. Yet back in 2012, I believe that I created and taught the first ever college course held in the United States that was devoted exclusively to IPv6, a summer course at Finger Lakes Community College. The course had a normal 45 hours aggregate meeting time, but it was devoted to just IPv6 and nothing else. Twenty years before that, in 1992, the IETF asked for white papers after multiple proposals to expand IPv4’s 32 bit address space surfaced. RFCs for IPv6 started appearing in 1996, twenty years ago from this summer, in which my IPv6 course is running in its fifth consecutive iteration at FLCC.
Both my FLCC IPv6 course and my personally written exam for the course are certified by the IPv6 Forum, a world-wide consortium, and an official certifying body for IPv6. Students who get a 70% or better on my exam at the end of the semester, will automatically earn their IPv6 Certified Network Engineer – Silver certification from the IPv6 Forum. Adding this certification to their resume will no doubt make a huge impression on potential employers.
IPv6 has, for the last few years, been appearing on industry level certification exams by CompTIA, Cisco, and others. It’s no longer something being shoved under the rug. Especially now that ARIN is “fresh out” of IPv4 addresses, the knowledge of IPv6 becomes more and more of a requirement with each passing day. You can’t simply wait until your company starts using IPv6 before learning about it. With a solid background in IPv6 before it’s needed, you will be able to easily adapt to and adopt this fascinating new protocol with intelligence and efficiency.
Interestingly enough, I recently looked back at the reports from my first industry certification exams, and to my shock, I saw that my Novell CNE and CNA exams from 2000/2001 actually had IPv6 questions. However, at that point, IPv6 was still in its infancy. No one was using it in earnest as we are just starting to do now.
There happens to be a great twist to this story. IPv4 isn’t going away entirely for a very long time. Experts are predicting decades more of IPv4. On January 1, 1983, ARPANET turned off NCP (Network Control Protocol), and flipped on Vint Cerf’s TCP/IP, featuring IPv4 addressing. There has not been, nor will there ever be, a corresponding “flag day” for IPv6. Back then, if you were “connected,” you were a government agency, academic institution, or research institution. Nowadays, all businesses are connected, and some can’t even afford seconds of downtime. Some companies pay extra to their service providers for the “five nines,” 99.999% guaranteed uptime during a year. Therefore, IPv6 education includes incorporating and interoperating IPv6 with IPv4 with dual-stacking, tunneling, or translation.
For my students with IPv6 education (and certification), it shows at the very least that they are progressive, motivated, and a step ahead of the times. It shows that they are scalable, adaptable, and up on the latest and greatest (although as we mentioned, this “latest and greatest” is nearly twenty-five years old). It shows potential employers that when the need arises to start using IPv6 in an incremental fashion, those who have been already working with IPv6 can be trusted as the pioneers, the architects, the leaders for IPv6 deployment. Learning IPv6 now, when you’re not faced with pressure, deadlines, prioritization demands, and more makes the learning process smoother and cleaner. Being able to learn IPv6 now affords you the opportunity to cover both breadth and depth in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible in a more “on demand” environment.
IPv6 is not just about the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses. The Internet is slowly going to turn from IPv4 to IPv6. It’s happening now. Think about business continuity. At some point, if you don’t make the switch, from a business perspective, it could be devastating. IPv6 is also about doing things that simply weren’t possible with IPv4. For example, “Internet of Things” devices simply do not have enough logic to run a dual stacked IPv4/IPv6 combination. Those sensors being placed all over the planet? They’re running native IPv6! Besides sensory networks, think about the control systems. Think about reporting systems. Think about appliances. Think about home entertainment devices.
One more thing, of course…security! Some networks might have IPv6 enabled and might not even realize it. Malicious IPv6 traffic can enter the network, tunneled through IPv4. Firewalls won’t catch it. Neither will IDS/IPS systems. They don’t even know what they’re looking for, as far as IPv6 goes!
Furthermore, you can’t start thinking about IPv6 security mechanisms and implementations without a truly solid background in the IPv6 protocol and all of its subcomponents like Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv6 (ICMPv6), Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol for IPv6 (DHCPv6), link-local addresses, Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), and much more. As my IPv6 course illustrates, there are so many layers and wrinkles to IPv6. You can’t just read a book over a weekend and be ready to deploy IPv6 or, even worse, IPv6 security on a Monday morning. I tell my students, “seeing is believing,” as we spend lots of time on IPv6 labs, while sniffing in Wireshark.
There’s little to no pressure right now to start learning IPv6. As the days, weeks, and months go by, that will become less and less true. The “Internet of Things” and mobile devices are, of course, the big factors responsible for IPv6’s great need right now. Now is the time to start learning IPv6! There will never be a better time!
Jonathan S. Weissman is an Associate Professor and IT Program Coordinator at FLCC. He holds 34 industry level certifications, five of which are IPv6 certifications from the IPv6 Forum.