IPv6 Transition: The Impact on Application Performance
July 09, 2012
Dennis Gullotti
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With the emergence of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), the Internet is experiencing a major upgrade that will change the way it communicates. While invisible to most Internet users, IPv6 means added complexity to the way browsers and devices connect to the Internet and how services operate and are accessed by users. This complexity has the potential to slow down and disrupt critical services that businesses and individuals rely on every day.

In order to protect revenues, customer loyalty and brand, businesses have no choice but to master this growing complexity at the Internet edge. This article will explain what IPv6 is; why it introduces more complexity and how businesses can leverage newly updated APM tools to ensure high-quality end-user experiences with both IPv4-compliant and IPv6-compliant services and applications.

What is IPv6 – And Why the Move?

Computers and other devices require Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to communicate over the Internet. The current standard, IPv4, allows for 4.3 billion unique addresses. When IPv4 was first implemented in the late 1970s, the 32-bit solution that offered four billion unique IP addresses seemed sufficient. However, with the rapid growth of the Internet over the last decade, demand for IP addresses has exceeded availability.

The Internet is adopting a new version – IPv6 – which provides many more unique addresses and supports exponential growth. While four billion IP addresses may have seemed like a lot at the dawn of the Internet, the 128-bit addresses of IPv6 contain 340 undecillion (or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion) IP addresses. Even with a rapidly growing Internet, that should last a while!

During the initial stages of the global IPv6 rollout, v4 and v6 will co-exist. However, adoption of IPv6 is expected to accelerate quickly, owing to the increasing unavailability of IPv4 addresses, as well as mandates from key organizations and governments urging the transition.

Why This Internet Upgrade May Hurt the End-User Experience

As with any new technology, the adoption of IPv6 will be marked by a period of adjustment and fine-tuning. During this time, it’s highly likely that web application performance will be impacted.

This has the potential to put organizations’ revenues, customer loyalty and brand at risk. According to a recent Akamai study, on average, network latencies over IPv6 were higher than over IPv4. Compuware's own analysis comparing performance of IPv4 and IPv6 URLs showed that on average IPv6 sites were 80 percent slower than their IPv4 counterparts.

What causes this discrepancy?

First, very few networks are fully optimized for IPv6 and most carriers won’t yet provide full end-to-end IPv6 connectivity. This means that some IPv6 traffic will have to be “tunneled” through IPv4, encapsulated and then de-encapsulated by routers or dedicated hardware. Every bump like this along the application delivery chain is going to result in a performance hit, potentially slowing down performance and resulting in availability problems.

Additionally, until demand grows, it is unlikely that content delivery networks (CDNs) will have the same level of distribution for IPv6 that they currently provide for IPv4. With less distribution, IPv6 content will be pulled from greater distances, again resulting in response time increases for end users.

The challenge then will be to get out in front of IPv6 performance problems, proactively monitor the entire application delivery chain and manage performance as the network and demand for IPv6 grows.

How Does Application Performance Management (APM) Help?

For organizations that already rely on APM to help them ensure the performance of their business-critical applications, the move to IPv6 will be no different. During the transition, including the time when the
two protocols co-exist, there are three critical steps organizations will need to take in order to ensure strong performance.

- Establish programs to monitor the performance and availability of IPv6-enabled properties. This should be done from external sources to validate the accessibility and performance of those properties from the end-user perspective. Only by testing from the outside-in can owners of IPv6-enabled properties be certain that real users can quickly and consistently access their applications.

- Continue monitoring IPv4 properties for performance and availability. Especially early in the transition, most users will still access web applications over IPv4. Therefore, any organizations undergoing an IPv6 initiative must keep in mind that performance still matters in current technology.

- Compare the performance of IPv4- and IPv6-enabled applications. No customer wants to be forced to adopt new technology, only to find that the performance does not meet their expectations. During the early days of the transition, IPv6 users will undoubtedly see worse performance from IPv6 networks. By comparing IPv4 and IPv6 application performance, owners can see where performance falls short and, with the proper tools, determine what impacted areas need tuning. There are new instant tests available that allow businesses to see how the performance of their IPv6-enabled sites compares to their IPv4-enabled sites.

Today, enhanced APM solutions place the end-user experience front and center by delivering the following support for IPv6:

- Synthetic Monitoring for both IPv4 and IPv6: enables businesses to proactively test and monitor web applications on both IPv4 and IPv6 from multiple global geographic locations. This helps organizations find and fix IPv6 problems fast, ensuring quality end-user experiences.

- User Experience Monitoring for both IPv4 and IPv6: browser-based and mobile application-based real user monitoring automatically provides insight into all end users accessing web applications from IPv6-based networks. Businesses can now monitor users coming from IPv6 networks as well as web and application servers running on IPv6 networks.

- Data Center Real User Monitoring: allows users to identify application performance problems regardless of the underlying network technology. Data Center Real User Monitoring allows businesses to monitor applications, transactions and customer location-based end-user performance on IPv6 networks just as easily as on existing IPv4 networks.

Conclusion

As IPv4 addresses become increasingly scarce, every segment of the industry must act quickly to accelerate full IPv6 adoption or risk increased costs and limited functionality online for Internet users everywhere. With the migration to IPv6 already underway, it’s critical that organizations ensure their IPv6-enabled applications perform on par with the expectations of their customers and users. By addressing the increased complexity at the Internet edge, APM solutions can help businesses ensure a smooth and successful transition to IPv6, with uninterrupted services.

ABOUT Dennis Gullotti

Dennis Gullotti is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Compuware’s APM business and has more than 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry.

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