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You probably know what an IP adress is: four numbers with dots between them. But even if you happen to know your computer’s IP address by heart, you may not know that this is an address according to IP version 4 (IPv4) – and that IPv4 is not the current version of the standard.

With the four numbers ranging from 0 to 255, there are 256**4 possible IP addresses, which is about 4 billions. Sounds a lot? Well, since the whole Internet sits on this layer, it’s good to prepare for a time when 4 billions may not be enough anymore. And this is where the new version, IPv6, steps in.

IPv6 introduces several changes that are significant mainly for the experts, and a single one that is obvious to everyone: Instead of 32 bits, IPv6 addresses have 128 bits and are written as eight four-digit hex numbers with colons in between. So the good news is that in the future there will be IP addresses galore: About 5 x 10**28 for every human alive today. The bad news is that those addresses will look something like “2001:0db8:85a3:08d3:1319:8a2e:0370:7344”.

The “new” Standard IPv6

Calling IPv6 a “new” version is not really accurate, for its spec became final as early as 1998. In case you were wondering: The intermediate IPv5 both started and ended at an experimental stage. The reason that IPv6 starts drawing more attention now is that – regardless of the standard’s rather slow adoption in general – all US government agencies are required to move to IPv6-enabled systems by 2008. And this is why more and more customers start asking us things like: Is it a big effort for me to enable IPv6 with my SAP applications? Do I have to act urgently? Will users notice the difference? Will my SAP applications benefit in any way?

As far as we know today, the answer to all four questions is a clear “No”. While IPv6 will probably cause some headache to network administrators and architects, administrators of SAP systems can keep their calm: The configuration of an SAP system is mostly on the level of destinations and host names, not on IP addresses. Configuring your system for IPv6 will just mean entering the new IPv6-style addresses and then setting a general switch that makes your entire system use the new version of the standard.

Application programs will neither suffer nor benefit, in fact they will hardly notice the difference. Even in the highly unlikely case that they deal with IP addresses directly (and there’s hardly a good reason why they should have to!), they are safe as long as they adhere to the basics – use the special data type for IP addresses and not just a four byte number, do not persist IP addresses in the database, etc.

Where do we go from here?

We at SAP have already tested IPv6 with our applications, and officially committed to supporting the new standard in the next release of SAP NetWeaver. Since applications running on SAP NetWeaver will automatically inherit IPv6-compliance, this roadmap will enable us to meet the 2008 deadline mentioned above for all our affected products. Some specialized components, such as the SAProuter, already support IPv6 in SAP NetWeaver 2004s.

For those of you who are not subject to the 2008 deadline, it is hard to say whether you should start investigating IPv6 just now. Everybody expects the adoption of IPv6 to pick up more speed some time, but it’s totally unclear how much more and when. Much will depend on the adoption rate of IPv6-enabled systems such as Windows Vista. In any case, it will be a long story: Experts anticipate a coexistence of both versions at least until 2025.

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