Bridging the IPv6 skills gap

It’s no exaggeration that the scalable future of the internet lies in the IPv6. Operating systems already come with IPv6 enabled by default and we have also seen a growing use of IPv6 with smart homes and Internet of Things which means IPv6 is growing faster than IPv4 ever did. However, for all its ongoing momentum, IPv6 is relatively new and many IT teams lack the experience and knowledge to understand the protocol, let alone safely deploy it. What can organisations do to close the skills gap?

Background illustration of the internet protocol ipv6

It’s been a decade since the Internet Society organised the World IPv6 Launch. On 6 June 2012, operators, network equipment manufacturers and web companies switched on IPv6 for their products and services. Ten years later, IPv6 adoption and deployment has progressed in terms of routing, end-user capabilities and traffic.

Routing data sees IPv6 traffic on the rise, more ASNs announcing IPv6 prefixes and IPv6 adoption at the end user side is measuring between 30% and 40% globally, though with large differences between regions and countries.

However, despite this, issues like the IPv6 skills gap continue to pose an obstacle to its wider adoption. Across the world, public and private sectors are increasingly aware of the need to make services available over IPv6 and promote its use, but adequate knowledge remains a major blocker in transitioning to IPv6.

Users need a thorough understanding of the protocol and how to deploy, implement and maintain it, as well as how to keep IPv6 networks secure. Many IT professionals still lack enough knowledge and experience to do so. Bridging the skills gap by finding the right technical information is key to continue this upward trend in IPv6 deployment.

The skills gap today isn’t what it was, say ten or even five years ago. IPv6 training needs are a moving target and IPv6 skills are a complex topic. Closing the skills gaps depends on people acquiring the right skills at the right moment. IP is used all over any modern infrastructure and it involves many different professional profiles, each one with different tasks and skills. What each person would need to learn is different but this is not the only variable to consider. The time, or better said, the maturity level of IPv6 on any given infrastructure also makes the required skill needs very different. It is also worth considering that technology changes and best practices are created or evolve over time, so skillsets need to evolve with continuous training as well.

Skills required to decide when and how to deploy IPv6, are very different from those required to design and plan a deployment, implement IPv6 in production infrastructure or when maintaining and troubleshooting IPv6 networks. What we’ve also seen in recent years are the skills required to innovate; IPv6 is not the ultimate goal, it is an enabler of new and better things to come.

Although grasping IPv6’s features may seem daunting at first, closing the skills gap is often quite straightforward. What organisations, particularly IT managers, need is an investment in training their teams. While some may speculate that technology requires the largest investment when deploying IPv6, in actuality, it’s the people who need to be equipped with the right skills and know-how. Only after a team has gone through the whole learning process can change happen.

Regional Internet Registries and the internet community have spent the last decade championing the deployment of IPv6. Governments are now taking heed and transitioning from IPv4 to dual-stack or IPv6-only with the support of good training. In 2020, the U.S. government released plans to transition the majority of U.S. Government networks and services to IPv6-only networks. In the same year, the Dutch government also stated that IPv6 would be a mandatory requirement for all government websites and email domains. The Regional Internet Registry, RIPE NCC and the Dutch government recently cooperated by running a pilot project to address the skills gap and rolled out IPv6 training for employees and continue their transition to IPv6. The main government website and many others are now IPv6 enabled. Even the website of the Dutch royal family is dual-stack.

It’s true that businesses are still wary to embrace IPv6 even if the protocol has already been ingrained in our day-to-day technology since its launch in the 1990s. However, as demonstrated, there is a clear trend towards IPv6 and the benefits of investing in training needs to be taken seriously. From ensuring safety and understanding features, to training up IT teams so they’re equipped with the right knowledge, all these ingredients can help businesses deploy - and embrace - IPv6 with the utmost confidence.

It’s becoming clear that it is necessary for all organisations to pay attention to this trend and as we continue to see how dependent organisations are on secured IPv6 networks, this process should begin sooner rather than later.

Alvaro Vives is the Technical Training and Development Team Manager for the RIPE NCC's Learning & Development department. His role as a trainer involved frequent travel throughout the RIPE NCC service region (Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia) to deliver training courses on behalf of the RIPE NCC on a number of topics, including Local Internet Registries, IPv6, BGP, Security, RIPE NCC services, the RIPE Database and the Routing Registry.