In an event passing nearly un-noticed, with the potential impact of a virtual asteroid slamming into the heart of Manhattan, the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA)  without fanfare, and without understanding by most of the global Internet, allocated the final blocks of IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) addresses to regional Internet registries (RIRs) during the first week of February.

While the “Internet” is not in danger of an imminent meltdown, the message is clear, “get ready to adopt IPv6, the accepted successor to IPv4, or accept the reality your business is on a countdown timer.”

IPv4 CounterExhaustion of IPv4

Let’s consider a couple analogies to help visualize what IPv4 exhaustion means.

Fossil Fuels.  We know there is a limit to the amount of oil and coal available to our planet.  Once the oil and coal are gone, those sources of energy are also gone.  We are now aggressively looking at ways to produce energy through alternate methods, including solar power, wind power, hydrogen, and other thermal sources.

No question, when the oil is gone, it is gone, and we will no longer have it is a potential source of energy.  There may be a period of buying and selling remaining resources, there may be stocks of fuel that will extend the life of a single country or group longer than others – but when oil is gone it is gone.  Ditto IPv4, although the initial allocation of addresses will remain, they just won’t be able to connect to the rest of the world.

.Airplane Seats.  An airplane might have 250 seats on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Once those seats are filled, nobody else is getting on the airplane.  You might be able to barter for seats, beg somebody to disrupt their plans because you want to sit next to a friend or wife/husband, or you might get an offer to go on a different flight if you are willing to let somebody else go in your seat – however when the jetway door closes, you are not getting on the airplane.

OK, no perfect analogies, because we all know the Internet is a constant, and will operate at IPv4 for a long time if you are one of the lucky ones with plenty of IPv4 addresses under your control.  However for those who want to develop new products and services, build new networks, or implement some new cosmic internet-enabled “thingy,” the door is just about shut.

Internet-connected ladies and gentlemen, IPv4 addresses are now fully allocated to the regional registries.  Nothing left in the bank.

Why IPv6 Needs to be Taken Seriously

In late 2010 I took part in a networking workshop in Kingston, Jamaica.  Quite a few participants from Caribbean academic networks, including representatives from Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Grenada.  As IPv6 was not on the agenda, nor was it discussed, I had no choice but to raise the question “how about IPv6?  Where does that fit into the regional strategy?”

The response was uniformly “we have plenty of IPv4 addresses available, we do not need IPv6 in the Caribbean.”  Discussions with government network leadership in Indonesia throughout 2010 resulted in similar responses- IPv6 was simply not on the list of priorities.  The network works, why mess with it?

Thankfully Indonesia has very robust private industry support of IPv6, and IPv6 is being addressed in spite of government indifference.

No story or article on IPv6 can pass without a sidebar or paragraph on the numbers of IPv4 vs. IPv6.  Here are the numbers once again – if you have not had a chance to grasp the scope of our preaching and evangelism.

IPv6 was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to deal with the long-anticipated IPv4 address exhaustion, and is described in Internet standard document RFC 2460, published in December 1998. While IPv4 allows 32 bits for an Internet Protocol address, and can therefore support 232 (4,294,967,296) addresses, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, so the new address space supports 2128 (approximately 340 undecillion or 3.4×1038 ) addresses. This expansion allows for many more devices and users on the internet as well as extra flexibility in allocating addresses and efficiency for routing traffic.

WikiPedia

This means if we, as a planet, want to move ahead with things such as intelligent grids, intelligent devices, new applications, new internet-enabled everything – we will need to have adequate IP address space to accommodate that future.  We cannot do that with IPv4 address limitations, but IPv6 gives us enough space to grow to the point we cannot currently even fully understand the entire extent of that address space.  Or in other words, IPv6 will do the job for the next couple Internet-enabled generations.

The Future of the Internet is Ours to Choose

Martin Levy, Director IPv6 Strategy at Hurricane Electric, one of those thought leaders who has been driving Internet at the operational level for a really, really long time sums it up succinctly,

IPv4 was yesterday’s news. Today is the day after yesterday, where IPv6 matters to each and every user of the global Internet. (Martin’s Blog)

Even as you read this blog, the available IPv4 address space is slipping away.  The Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) are reviewing their IPv4 allocation policies, and you can go to sleep with relative certainty the little guy is not going to be in a very strong position when those last blocks of addresses are issued.

Discussions are popping up all over the Internet on how we can step back and find more efficient ways to use the existing IPv4 address space, squeezing more time out of it through global cooperation, emergence of trading and markets for the buying and selling of IPv4 addresses, and even more creative use of network address translation.

Or of course they could simply spend the same amount of energy to deploy IPv6 in their networks.

What Can the End User Do?

Well, after years of promoting IPv6 – at least in marketing materials, equipment vendors are finally starting to produce hardware which can handle “Native IPv6” routing.  Cisco/Linksys, NetGear, Belkin, and all the other guys are finally stepping up to meet the needs of consumers.  Mobile phone vendors and applications providers for iPhones, Androids, and Windows are being forced to produce IPv6-ready products.  The tools are finally starting to become available.

Internet providers in Asia, Europe, and the Americas are finally putting IPv6 capability into their networks, and the topic is no longer responded to with amusement and indifference by network operators and administrators.

But within the broad community of IT administrators,  applications developers, private and government network providers – the actual IPv6-readiness factor is pretty low.

So again, what can we do?

Easy, as a consumer, employee, manager, or user of Internet services we have somebody – whether it be an organizational IT manager, ISP, or other provider, who is responsible for implementing IPv4 or continuing to put virtual scotch tape and bubble gum on a a geriatric IPv4 network.

Raise the question as a consumer.  Raise the question as a manager.  Raise the question as a corporate strategist.  Raise the question to everybody above your level that is blocking or not adequately answering the need to consider or implement IPv6 in your network.

Ask them at what point the “Law of Plentitude,” or that point where not having access to IPv6 will put you in a competitive, social, or professional risk will be reached.  At what point, if your Internet-connected world is not IPv6-connected, will you be denied access to your community?  And what are they going to do about it?

Epilogue

From the Internet Society

World IPv6 Day

On 8 June, 2011, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks will be amongst some of the major organisations that will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour “test flight”. The goal of the Test Flight Day is to motivate organizations across the industry – Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and web companies – to prepare their services for IPv6 to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out.

In the Australian IT online edition Paul Wilson, head of the RIR for Asia (APNIC), was quoted “I gave a presentation in Japan last year where I said: ‘look we’re not asking you to panic, but maybe you should panic just a little bit’.”

Global Internet Network Providers are starting to take notice, but they sadly represent a small percentage of the global Internet-connected IT administration and applications development community.  Call your network representative and ask if they are participating in World IPv6 Day.  Ask them “why not” if you get a negative reply.  If you represent a government or company, force the issue.  If you are a consumer, consider changing providers if your network shows indifference.

IPv6 will happen – don’t be on the wrong side of plentitude.

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