In a recent article from IPv6 Now, they reveal that less than 10% of all IPv4 addresses remain unallocated, and predict it will be less than 3 years before we run out for good. With the expiration date approaching, companies running their own network need to be prepared.
When the internet began, a system was created for identifying machines on a network, called the Internet Protocol. Similar to telephone numbers, this system provides a unique address for every computer connected to the internet.
The addresses are structured as a set of four numbers, each number can range from 0-255, e.g. 192.168.1.100. This 32-bit address creates approx 4 billion (4.3 x 109) unique combinations.
With the exponential growth of the internet, we are rapidly approaching the 4 billion user capacity.
Technology is Short Lived
With technology (and most concepts in general), it is often difficult for people to look past the immediate future to anticipate the long term need. My favorite example of this is a quote from Bill Gates:
“… I felt like I was providing enough freedom for 10 years. That is, a move from 64k to 640k felt like something that would last a great deal of time. Well, it didn’t – it took about only 6 years before people started to see that as a real problem.”
A similar example of this can be found in a 2003 ZDNet article in which Paul Wilson, director general of APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Centre), stated that the shortage of IP Addresses is “misinformation”, and that the current system would be enough for 20 years.
In both of these cases, they knew exactly what to anticipate, they just expected the changes to take longer to happen.
New Technology Already Exists
In 1998, a new protocol was developed called IPv6. This new protocol can handle up to 340 undecillion (3.4 x 1038) addresses. While it seems like this is the answer we have been looking for, there is still one problem: Internet Protocol is implemented in hardware, not software.
This means that is isn’t as simple as running the latest patch or upgrade to get everything fixed. In some cases, companies will have to replace their entire infrastructure to support these new standards.
Even consumers will likely need to replace their own networks, as many modern-day routers and modems do not support the new protocol.
Comcast, one of the United States’ largest internet providers, is taking the lead in this space, stating “in order for 2011 to represent the start of widespread adoption, critical work such as our trials must be conducted in 2010″.
Google is attacking the switch from the other end, providing an IPv6 version of the Google website for users to test out their connection.
Once major players such as these get involved, it is only a matter of time before the industry as a whole takes a big step forward.
Are you ready for the switch?
Photo Credit: Bruno Girin