The Internet of Things (IoT) is fundamentally changing the way we interact with technology. From wearable devices that track our exercise to smart thermostats that help us save energy and beyond, no one can deny IoT’s ability to help improve our quality of life.
In the corporate setting, IoT is helping companies save money and increase productivity by streamlining operations through automation and uncover new opportunities for revenue. Big data analytics, sensors, and specialized applications, all of which connect to each other over various networks, are some of the tools by which companies are harnessing the power of IoT to their benefit.
As beneficial IoT can be, however, there is no denying IoT also has a profound impact on the networking infrastructure of today. Most networks were not built to support the deluge of data coming from the myriad of devices that make up an IoT solution. As a result, many entities aren’t reaping the full rewards that IoT can provide.
A large part of the issue stems from the current IP standard, IPv4, which is close to being exhausted. In some parts of the world, namely the Asia Pacific region, there are no more IPv4 addresses to be obtained. As new devices come on to the network, there simply are not enough public addresses under IPv4 to go around.
When IPv4 was introduced by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn in 1974, it was designed to accommodate around 4.3 billion addresses, which, back then probably seemed like an adequate number to future-proof the protocol for years to come. But what the creators couldn’t predict was the explosive growth of mobile and other “always on” internet-connected devices, each of which requires its own unique address.
There is relief with the Internet’s latest standard, IPv6, which offers far more numerical IP addresses. IPv6 also provides simplified address assignments and additional inherent security over IPv4.
Adoption of IPv6 is growing. Currently, IPv6 adoption stands at 26.1 percent in the United States.
What’s more, IPv6 statistics from Google show the percentage of users that access Google over IPv6 has increased markedly. In January 2015, only about 6 percent of Google users accessed Google over IPv6. One year later, in January 2016, that number climbed to about 10 percent. And in January 2017, the number rose again to more than 16 percent.
What Makes IPv6 So Special?
IPv6 has a number of features that set it apart from its predecessor. For one, it utilizes 128-bit internet addresses, which means it can support 2^128 Internet addresses—enough to accommodate many devices for a long time.
From a security perspective, IPv6 embeds the use of IPsec (encryption), which arguably is the the same level of security we get when using IPsec with IPv4. The main difference is that it is baked into IPv6 on a per-packet level.
However, the enhancement it does provide is the use of cryptography for things like Internet control message protocol (ICMP) (ping) where IPsec can be applied to things like ICMP due to IPv6 support and design (ICMPv6) vs. ICMPv4, which is usually blocked and can contain malware.
What’s more, IPv6 supports the Secure Neighbor Discovery (SEND) protocol, which authenticates a host through cryptographic information, dramatically reducing the possibility of naming-based attacks. With IPv4, in contrast, it is relatively easy for hackers to redirect traffic for malicious purposes such as attacks or spying.
IPv6 provisioning is much simpler, as well. The version’s auto-configuration capability allows a device to generate an IPv6 address as soon as it is given power, reducing the amount of manpower necessary to set up devices.
IPv6 is Great, But Can the Network Handle It?
IoT devices increasingly will leverage IPv6 to address efficiency, scale, and security. This uptick in IPv6 adoption serves as a double-edge sword for many companies: they now have enough addresses to add IoT devices to their networks, but their existing infrastructure isn’t equipped to handle the bandwidth-intensive demands of IoT solutions. In many cases, they’re hindered by their networks, which are plagued by latency issues from trying to accommodate too much data. It’s a case of drinking from a fire hose.
That’s what makes software-defined networks—particularly software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN)—an attractive proposition for companies looking to upgrade their existing networks. The benefits of SD-WAN are numerous, from optimized application and cloud connectivity and enhanced security to easier provisioning and the ability to support any transport. SD-WAN provides an on-ramp for companies looking to shift to an infrastructure defined not by proprietary hardware and time-consuming provisioning but by simplicity, agility, and flexibility.
The SD-WAN market, too, is seeing increased adoption. Research firm IDC projects the SD-WAN market will hit $6 billion by 2020. That’s a 90 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from the market’s $225 million value in 2015. Clearly, companies recognize the benefits of SD-WAN over traditional WANs. It’s safe to say IoT is helping accelerate adoption of SD-WAN as a foundation for any enterprise WAN.
It’s important to remember that while IPv4 is close to exhaustion, it’s not dead, yet. That’s why companies looking to adopt an SD-WAN must ensure the solution they choose supports both IPv4 and IPv6 to ensure a smooth transition to their digital transformation strategies. Without such support, companies may experience many of the same connectivity issues plaguing current WANs.
Clearly, the combination of IPv6 and IoT make SD-WAN an attractive proposition for companies, especially for those already feeling the pressure brought on by the data deluge of multiple devices. Together, these new technologies add up to a wealth of opportunity for companies in extending their capabilities, creating new opportunities and, ultimately, increasing their bottom line.