Out with the Old: As internet addresses run out, Next generation protocols step up

Monday, 7 February 2011 02:35 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Get ready for IPv6: The explosive global growth of connected devices has nearly depleted the 4.3 billion addresses of Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4)

For businesses, migrating to IPv6 will cost money, but not making the move eventually could cost revenue

After years of warnings that the Internet’s predominant addressing system would run out of these numbers, the bottom of the barrel has finally been scrapped. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) announced Thursday that it has delegated the final 300 million addresses available through version 4 of the Internet protocol (IPv4) to the five Regional Internet Registries. These RIRs will over the next few years assign these remaining addresses to new Internet-connected computers, smart phones, televisions and other devices worldwide

The distribution of IPv4’s remaining addresses could be described as “one of the most important days in the Internet’s history,” Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), said at a press conference commemorating the announcement. (ICANN operates the IANA.) “It marks far more than the transition from one Internet address protocol to another; it marks the amazingly successful growth of the Internet.”

Indeed, IPv4’s depletion provides some measure of the Internet’s popularity, given that the protocol allowed for nearly 4.3 billion addresses. The dearth of IPv4 addresses also means that its successor, IPv6, is now thrust into the spotlight. (IPv5 was an experiment that failed to scale adequately and was subsequently abandoned.)

Internet service providers (ISPs) now need to step up and implement IPv6, says Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and a former Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) scientist instrumental in creating the Internet. Whereas IPv6 has been available for the past 15 years, ISPs were able to squeeze a lot of mileage out of IPv4 addresses using network address translation boxes to enable many private addresses to share a single public IP (Internet protocol) address, according to Cerf, a former ICANN chairman.

“So the ISPs didn’t implement IPv6 even though the operating system vendors and router vendors did implement the protocol,” Cerf says. “What is needed now is a major effort to implement the protocol in the ISP space and to test the system end to end.” There are a lot of details that “have to be gotten right” for ISPs to install the operationally solid dual-stack systems necessary in the near term to support both IPv4 and IPv6, he adds.

Every device that connects to the Internet has a unique identifier generated by the IP addressing system. Since 1982 most of these have come from IPv4, which generates 32-bit addresses as four sets of numbers (each with a value between 0 and 255) separated by dots. IPv6, standardised in 1996, expands the Internet address size to 128 bits and consists of eight sets of hexadecimal digits separated by colons. IPv6 thereby offers one billion-trillion times more addresses than IPv4.

“We’ve all heard predictions about how in the future our refrigerators will be connected to the Internet to alert us when we’re out of milk or butter, our lights will be controlled by our smart phones and our cars will be wifi hotspots on wheels,” Beckstrom said. “For all that to happen, we need Internet addresses, and that means we need to speed the global adoption of IPv6.”

As new devices come online, they are beginning to receive IPv6 addresses. This is likely to mean little to people buying these devices, but it is very important to businesses, social networks and other organisations trying to reach those people. Web sites whose e-mail and Web servers are configured to communicate only with IPv4 addresses cannot be accessed by IPv6 devices.

Granted, the Internet will not be significantly different next week than it was this week, Olaf Kolkman, chairman of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), an Internet Society (ISOC) committee that performs oversight of the Internet’s technical and engineering development, acknowledged at the press conference. In the long term, however, Web sites will find it difficult to support both IPv4- and IPv6-enabled networks. For this reason, Google has been supporting IPv6 since early 2008 and moved YouTube to the new protocol in February 2010. To promote the move to IPv6, the ISOC is hosting World IPv6 day on 8 June, during which Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Cisco and other companies will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour test period.

The amount of time it takes to assign the remaining IPv4 addresses will depend on each RIR’s policies, although it is estimated that the first region to run out of addresses will be Asia-Pacific given the rapid pace at which people there are adding Internet-connected devices, Kolkman said.

IPv4 and IPv6 will need to coexist for several decades to ensure that IPv4 devices can continue to connect to the Internet for as long as they are functioning. If the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is handled properly, the end result should be akin to Y2K—when at the turn of the millennium computer operators feared the worst but very few serious problems actually arose.(Source: Scientificamerican.com)

ICANN Assigns Its Last IPv4 Addresses

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has handed out its last IPv4 addresses, leaving the remaining blocks to regional registries that in some cases may exhaust them within a few months.

The end of IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses was announced in a ceremony in Miami on Thursday morning. Each of the five regional Internet registries (RIRs) was allocated one of the final five large blocks of about 16 million addresses.

The end of the central supply of IPv4 addresses signalled the urgency of enterprises and service providers to migrate to IPv6, the latest version of the protocol, which has been available for more than a decade and allows for an almost unlimited number of addresses. When there are no more IPv4 addresses available from the RIRs, new hosts on the Internet will not be able to communicate with systems that use only IPv4 without special mechanisms that could degrade the Internet experience. Some experts advise adopting a “dual-stack” approach to remain connected with both IPv4 and IPv6 hosts.

“A pool of more than 4 billion Internet addresses has just been emptied this morning,” said Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees IANA. “The future of the Internet, and the innovation it fosters, lies with IPv6.”

IANA and the RIRs had laid the groundwork for Thursday’s action in advance by agreeing on a policy that when the supply of large blocks went down to five, one would be assigned to each of the regional bodies. The policy was designed to ensure that regions where addresses were being used up less quickly wouldn’t be left out in the end.

The Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) was assigned two large blocks of addresses earlier this week, causing the rule to kick in.

Though there is wide agreement that enterprises and ISPs need to migrate to IPv6, there are potential hazards both in delaying that move and in carrying it out. A key concern is that most available security tools don’t work with IPv6. And though some experts point to network-based translation between the protocols as a short-term solution, others say that approach could break some applications and services.

The supply of fresh IPv4 addresses for North America will probably last only three to nine months, according to John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the region’s RIR.

The action taken Thursday will have ripple effects on organisations that need IPv4 addresses in many countries.

As the final allocation took place, new rules immediately went into effect at the American Registry for Internet Numbers, the RIR for North America. In the past, ARIN has allowed its customers to forecast their need for addresses over the next 12 months and apply for a year’s allocation. Now they will have to apply every 90 days, showing a forecast for that period.

“We don’t want to have a circumstance where organisations come in and we give one a year’s worth, and someone else has none,” Curran said.

When APNIC’s supply is reduced to its final block of 16 million addresses, it will restrict its customers to just one much smaller block of 1,024 addresses. It expects this supply to last approximately five years.

Thursday’s action will have no noticeable short-term effects, Internet Architecture Board Chairman Olaf Kolkman said during a press conference following the Miami ceremony. But over time, the Internet will be severely limited if network administrators don’t migrate to IPv6, he said.

“Such an Internet is likely to grow increasingly less capable of serving our needs than it is today,” Kolkman said. Because of the need for adaptation tools within the network, the end-to-end model that makes many Internet applications work will break down. For example, it might become hard to make a Skype call or to trade files, he said. For businesses, migrating to IPv6 will cost money, but not making the move eventually could cost revenue, he said. “The next 2 or 3 billion customers will use IPv6 only, and they will not be able to do business with you,” Kolkman said.

As the pool of IPv4 addresses shrinks, it’s possible that a black market will form, but it probably won’t be large, said Raul Echeberria, chairman of the Number Resource Organisation. All the RIRs have set procedures for transfers between address holders, which are designed to make sure that addresses only go to entities that need them. Echeberria believes most addresses will change hands through those mechanisms.

Despite the small portion of Internet traffic that uses IPv6 today — recently estimated at less than one-tenth of 1 percent — Echeberria is optimistic about the work done so far by vendors and network operators.

“All conditions are in place for a successful IPv6 transition,” he said.

“A crisis has been averted,” ICANN’s Beckstrom said. The collaborative culture of the Internet allowed ICANN, the RIRs, the Internet Engineering Task Force and other entities to deal with the declining address space and create IPv6, he said. “This model is working incredibly well for the world.” (PC World)