Network Services Case Study
Air Products Gets Ready for IPv6 (Cont'd)
A lot of companies are still very much in the initial phase, learning what IPv6 means, the technologies that will mitigate some of the risks and the code levels of hardware out there.”
– Paul Douglas, Network Mobility Engineering Manager, Air Products
About Air Products
Air Products Facts
Prepare IT infrastructure for next-generation Internet addressing
IPv6 Readiness Assessment by AT&T Consulting
Early planning helps ensures communication continuity in important Asian markets and lays groundwork for a more complete transition
Industrial gases and chemical products
18,300 employees at 700 global sites
Air Products produces and distributes gas and chemical products for industrial use. With a comprehensive portfolio of products and services, the company serves a variety of industries, from technology and transportation to personal care. Air Products’ high quality atmospheric and specialty gases, chemical compounds and equipment help improve consumer products of all kinds, while promoting environmental responsibility and reducing customers’ costs. Operating globally, the firm runs manufacturing and distribution sites in more than 40 countries.
Air Products has expanded its business worldwide, increasing global sales as well as production. The company relies on the Internet for both customer service and internal business management, but it faces challenges as the Internet verges on major change. The original IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) addressing system is running out of addresses and will gradually be replaced by the new IPv6 plan. The two systems are incompatible; in-depth planning and new technology are required to operate with both new and old IP addresses. In Asia, where IPv4 addresses are already exhausted, Air Products has important operations and plans further growth. The company must move quickly to prepare for IPv6.
Air Products engaged AT&T to complete an IPv6 Strategy and Roadmap. With an objective understanding of compatibility issues, AT&T provided Air Products with a multi-year roadmap for full IPv6 compliance, helped determine business-critical upgrade priorities, provided recommendations on transition technology, and mapped out project timelines and projected costs. The company’s early start has put them right on track.
Business with a Global Footprint
Founded in 1940, Air Products provides gases and chemical products to a wide range of industries, including food, healthcare, transportation and energy. Its products improve the performance of countless industrial and consumer products, from televisions and ice cream to rockets and ventilators. Air Products’ unique portfolio includes atmospheric and specialty gases, polymers, resins, curing agents, and other chemicals and performance materials.
We felt that AT&T was best able to give us the broader view of the technologies and had more hands on views to what was happening in the industry,”
- Dianna Knauss, Program Manager, Air Products
Headquartered in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Air Products is a global enterprise. The company runs 700 manufacturing, distribution and sales sites in dozens of countries. Its regional business model provides consistent product quality internationally while maintaining local focus. “We have a truly global footprint,” said Bill Folk, Director, IT Operations and Technical Support. Air Products’ end-to-end global services range from fully outsourced management of customers’ plants to shipments-to-order. The company also provides equipment, training and consulting services.
Since its founding, Air Products has been at the forefront of both technological developments and business strategy. The company continuously develops and adopts advances in technology to improve product quality, reduce cost and limit environmental impact. Air Products has incorporated these ideals into day-to-day business management, replacing many manual tasks with more efficient electronic systems. “We are connecting to a lot of things that are not humans such as tanks, plants and other assets around the world.” said Folk. These complex operations are tied to a robust network and three data centers.
A New Internet
To achieve consistent and cost-effective remote site connection, Air Products conducts facility management over the Internet. “We rely very heavily on the Internet to connect sites up,” said Paul Douglas, Network Mobility Engineering Manager. “As we drive more and more things to e-commerce, we become more reliant on remote people connecting in.”
For every organization with significant global and Internet-based operations, the change from IPv4 to IPv6 is a concern. The IPv4 addressing protocol was developed in the early 1980s to address “packets” of digital information that flow over the Internet. But with so many devices including computers, PDAs, cell phones and machines, each with its own IP address, the limited supply of IPv4 addresses is running out. IPv6, has been created to take up where IPv4 leaves off, providing a larger address space, vastly more distinct addresses and functional improvements over IPv4. But the two systems are not directly compatible. The Internet won’t suddenly shut down when IPv4 addresses run out, but the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is taking on a new urgency.
Unless preparations are made and the right technology is in place, organizations using only IPv4 systems will find billions of potential customers out of reach. The first global region to run out of IPv4 addresses is Asia Pacific, where Air Products has a significant and growing customer base and new production sites. Without IPv6 compliance, Internet-reliant operational systems could be compromised. “In many areas, we rely on local Internet service providers to provide our network connectivity,” said Dianna Knauss, Program Manager. “We know we don’t have real control over whether they get an IPv4 or an IPv6 line, so we need to be prepared.”
After attending an AT&T IPv6 presentation, Air Products decided to step up its IPv6 preparation. With their commitments in Asia and increasing operational integration of the Internet (500 out of their 700 sites rely on it), they knew they were exactly the kind of company to be immediately affected.
Air Products needed a plan. The company conducted a search and chose AT&T to complete a strategic roadmap to help them prepare for IPv6 compliance. “We felt that AT&T was best able to give us the broader view of the technologies and had more hands on views to what was happening in the industry,” explained Knauss.
The transition to IPv6 will not be accomplished with the flip of a switch. Every networked device, every software application and every interface with customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders must be examined and tested to verify that each one is compatible with IPv6. It’s a massive undertaking, and Air Products was unsure where to start.
AT&T first helped identify the company’s ultimate goal: to have a “dual-stacked” system, with full IPv4 and IPv6 capability across functions. “Dual-stack is a great long term goal but you can’t get there overnight,” said Folk. Full IPv6 compliance will take time, effort and serious planning. “We asked AT&T to provide us with strategies for how we get there,” Knauss added.
In a thorough three-month assessment, AT&T consultants got to fully know Air Products and its operations by gathering data, conducting on-site interviews and looking through key infrastructure components. AT&T identified the points where the company’s most critical business processes touched the Internet – the functions that would be most seriously affected by IPv6. “You have to prioritize the things that are most important,” Knauss said. Those top areas of concern were e-business sales and remote site connectivity. AT&T provided guidance on transitional technologies that could mitigate any risk.
IPv6 incompatibility has the potential to significantly limit system accessibility and compromise business. “If you use an e-business portal for your customers, but they get an IPv6 address, they won’t be able to sign into it,” explained Douglas. And it’s not only an external issue. With increased use of online banking and other business management transactions, the impacts could reach far into the company’s daily operations. For instance, Air Products’ 18,300 employees are increasingly mobile. “Many of our employees either travel or work from home and they rely heavily on the Internet to connect in and do their job,” said Knauss.
One issue that complicates IPv6 preparation: unlike the Y2K issue, there’s no fixed transition date. “In some ways it’s better in that it doesn’t have the ultimate deadline, but in some cases I think that’s worse,” said Knauss. “People are sitting there guessing and maybe overestimating the amount of time they may have.” AT&T provided multi-year migration timelines and set forth realistic stages of implementation, laying out a sequence of steps for Air Products to follow.
Full IPv6 compliance will eventually require significant system overhaul. “We look at our network and 70 percent of our hardware isn’t IPv6 compliant, nor upgradeable,” said Douglas. “There’s a cost impact to this.” The Air Products roadmap also addresses costs, providing estimates and breaking down the migration into understandable pieces. “They did a middle manager view to say ‘here’s the work you need to do and what we’re recommending for how you get there,’” Knauss explained. “And then there was the senior management view that said ‘here’s your readiness and here’s going to be the cost for you to get there.’”
The plan AT&T provided was critical in helping Air Products get started with the migration process. “We couldn’t have gotten there nearly as quickly on our own,” said Knauss. Under the plan, Air Products is currently completing a comprehensive test lab which it will use to try out how different technologies – transition software, applications and network components – function in an IPv6 environment.
Air Products has moved out front in IPv6 compliance, and leading can be lonely. “Each step we seem to be the first that are doing it,” said Knauss. Not all of the company’s technology vendors are IPv6 ready. When asking vendors about their IPv6 strategies, Air Products often gets back more questions. “A lot of companies are still very much in the initial phase, learning what IPv6 means, the technologies that will mitigate some of the risks and the code levels of hardware out there,” said Douglas.
With more experience than the majority of its peers and partners, Air Products has advice for other companies. ”If they haven’t done so yet, they should really assess the IPv6 readiness of their infrastructure elements and see where they stand,” said Knauss. A comprehensive transition strategy and plan is the first step on a long road to IPv6 compliance. “Don’t bury your head in the sand for too much longer,” Douglas said.