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Guide: Compatibility Requirements for IPv6 Upgrades

IPv6 has been a hot topic in the networking industry for over a year now and as the changeover progresses, it is still a priority for companies.

Two major concerns are:

  • Licensing – some devices will need an IOS license upgrade to gain access to IPv6 features, which can raise the cost of a device considerably
  • Performance – some hardware-based forwarding platforms do not support IPv6 in hardware, leading to very poor IPv6 performance

Network equipment manufacturers have seen this as an opportunity to push businesses towards immediate and costly upgrades, even if they are not really necessary.
It is important that companies make informed decisions related to IPv6 changes and resist OEM pressure to conduct wholesale upgrades when not required.  The majority of network gear has had IPv6 capability for years.  For example many existing L3 network switches from Cisco support IPv6 in hardware and don’t require additional IOS licensing. However, other equipment will not provide hardware forwarding of IPv6 data and would result in poor IPv6 performance. Below is a list of devices that both support IPv6 in hardware and which do not require additional IOS licensing for this support.

Device compatibility with IPv6

When we discuss IPv6 support in switches, we are discussing L3 switches. Switching functionality is performed via MAC address, and as such, any switch model will be able to switch IPv6 packets in hardware. Routing functionality is where IPv6 support comes into play.

See below for Cisco, Dell, Juniper and Brocade/Foundry compatibility requirements:


Cisco Catalyst 3560 and Catalyst 3750 switches

All Catalyst 3560/3750 switches have hardware support for IPv6 forwarding, and starting in IOS version 12.2(50) SE, all IOS versions for these switches now support IPv6, including IPBASE.

Cisco Catalyst 4500 switches

In the Cat4500 line, IPv6 forwarding in hardware is found on the WS-X45-Sup6-E and WS-X45-SUP6L-E supervisors, and like Cisco’s other current L3 switching platforms, IPv6 features are found in IPBASE. Beware, though, as older supervisors do not provide hardware forwarding of IPv6 data, resulting in very poor IPv6 performance.

Cisco Catalyst 4900 switches

The Catalyst 4900M and Catalyst 4948E switches are the IPv6-capable platforms in the 4900 series. Both of these switches support IPv6 in all IOS images, so there is no need for an additional IOS license, either. Like the Cat4500, though, the older WS-C4948 and WS-C4948-10GE switches do not provide IPv6 forwarding in hardware.

Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches

Starting in IOS version 12.2(33)SXI, Cisco added IPv6 features to all IOS versions, including IPBASE and IP Services. The Catalyst 6500, with its large amount of hardware forwarding resources, is very well-suited for demanding IPv4 and IPv6 environments, especially when deployed with a Sup720-3BXL or VS-S720-10G-3CXL. However, the still popular Sup2 does not support IPv6 in hardware, making it completely unsuitable for an IPv6 deployment.

Cisco 1900/2900/3900 Series routers

The ISR G2 routers now support IPv6 in IPBASE. Being small routers, there is no hardware compatibility to worry about; IPv6 support is determined only by features provided in the IOS versions. Note that the still-current but older 1800/2800/3800 routers require the purchase of an IOS license (SP Services to be specific) for IPv6 support.

Cisco 7200 Series routers

When using an NPE-400, NPE-G1, or NPE-G2, the 7200 series will support IPv6 in IPBASE, starting in 12.4T IOS versions. Like the small routers, the 7200 is not a hardware forwarding platform, so IOS version is the only concern here. Note that older NPEs, like the NPE-225 and NPE-300, are not supported by these newer IOS releases.

Cisco 7600 Series routers

For very high (10Gbps+) IPv6 performance, the CISCO7600 series, especially when coupled with an RSP720 part (such as the RSP720-3CXL-10GE), provides particularly strong performance.

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Dell Networking

With the exception of the S2410 (since it is L2 only), all of Dell Networking’s L3 switching products support IPv6 forwarding in hardware and do not require additional licensing.

Dell PowerConnect range

IPv6 support for this range cannot be counted on as the range is not as high performance as Dell Networking. As the older models are is used specifically in a LAN environment with an expected turnover of two to three years, the range was not intended for a move to IPv6. However newer models being developed will support IPv6.

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All current Juniper routers, switches and firewalls will fully support IPv6 (in hardware where applicable) and do not require additional licensing.

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Junos Space

All Juniper products which can be operated using the Junos Space platform will support IPv6 with no additional licensing required.

EoS M and J series routers also support IPv6.

ScreenOS-based Netscreen firewalls most likely not support IPv6 and products should be evaluated on an individual basis as not all are supported by Juniper.

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Current hardware will fully support IPv6 in hardware, although additional licensing may be needed depending on the platform, including the new IC-F3 switches and the NetIron router series.

However, older Brocade models may have hardware that supports IPv6 but will definitely need additional licensing.

EoS hardware is not guaranteed to support IPv6 and even if supported, will lack essential features such as IPv6 routing protocols like multiprotocol BGP. In addition to features being missing, future essentials like IPv6 bug fixes will not be provided by the manufacturer.

If IPv6 support is required on Brocade/Foundry hardware, it is highly recommended to stay with the current production hardware.

Network Assessments

It is also highly advisable for companies to conduct a thorough network assessment by an independent third party to determine which equipment doesn’t need upgrading, which should be upgraded and which should be disposed of. The assessment would include an analysis of long-range planning that best reflects your organization’s business needs, budget parameters, network capabilities and equipment support strategies. A network audit from a reputable third-party, one with no vendor bias, can help create a blueprint that pinpoints your challenges and addresses current operations while providing recommendations for future moves. This audit can determine over what time period the upgrade needs to happen, whether it’s in three months, six months or a year and remove time pressures.

Disposing of Old Equipment

If businesses need to upgrade to IPv6 and some of the equipment can’t be upgraded it is worth remembering that there are still companies out there which might not need IPv6 and might only need IPv4, but which still need to maintain existing equipment. By selling the technology they no longer need to an independent reseller, businesses can not only make some money, but also enable another company to replace older parts that companies like Cisco no longer provide.

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