Friday, April 15, 2011

The IPV4 well runs dry sooner than thought

When the internet was first designed it was inconceivable that it would connect to so many devices and computers that its massive 2^32 addresses would ever be exhausted.

Using a simple format nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn enabled administrators to give every machine, router switch or other device on the Net its own unique address -- and this worked perfectly well for decades.

However, nobody counted on the Net becoming as ubiquitous as it has so now we find ourselves running short of addresses and having to switch to a new numbering (IPV6) system with 2^128 addresses.

The problem with switching from IPV4 to IPV6 is that everybody seems to be putting off the expensive, complex and time-consuming task until the very last minute.

Well, at least for the Asia Pacific region, that minute is here, right now, earlier than predicted.

This rather unexpected announcement will force the hand of those building new networks or extending existing ones on the presumption that they could obtain extra extra IPV4 blocks.

Even those businesses that have had the foresight to invest in IPV6 networks are still facing problems as, according to media reports, few ISPs in the region are ready and able to deliver an IPV6 connection and allocate IPV6 addresses to their clients.

Officials are hoping that the unexpected speed with which the IPV4 blocks have been depleted in the Asia Pacific region will catalyze US companies and service providers into ramping up their own transitions to IPV6. It was expected that there would be sufficient blocks available to last into 2012 but now predictions are suggesting that the global supply will have dried up before the end of 2011.

I wonder if we'll start seeing error messages on our screens which say "Sorry, the internet is full, please try again later".

And before you think to yourself - "well at least we'll never run out of addresses with 2^128 numbers available" - stop and think about it. I would not be quite so confident. After all, there was a time when a few informed industry leaders thought that 640K of RAM would be sufficient for any computer. And, a few decades before that, an IBM big-wig pronounced that the world would probably only ever need a handful of computers.

In the world of computers, even the biggest numbers become very small, very quickly.

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