The Rocky Road to IPv6

The Internet as we know it is apparently running out of space. No, this does not mean thatexisting websites will not be able to add more content. But sometimein the next few years the space for new IP addresses — the kind normally used up to this point, anyway — will be nearlydepleted, according to

The ubiquitous growth of mobile devices and never-ending tide ofmalware and other browser exploits are hogging all the allocatedspace. So are the mega address blocks that large corporations swept upover the last decade, explained Michael Sutton, vice president forsecurity research at Zscaler.

Despite his agreement that the industryis running out of IP address space, his company’s researchers recently issued a report stating that ample space remains — if betterusage is applied.

Much like any other commodity, IP addresses on the Internet are amatter of supply and demand. The supply used to outpace the demand.Now, however, the present IP version 4 (IPv4) protocol used to manage theInternet has a rapidly dwindling number of IP address left. The NorthAmerican Region of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)issued a call for the industry to complete the changeover by Jan. 1,2012.

“The Internet still isn’t close to coming to a grinding halt. No oneknows when that will occur. I don’t feel it’s a case of the sky isfalling,” Sutton told TechNewsWorld.

A Question of Scale

Zscaler’s State of the Web research report for Q1 2010 suggests much of the Internet remains untouched. Sutton does notdispute that IP address space is filling up. But he sees a shortagelater rather than sooner.

“Part of the problem is driven by a lack of policing the allocationand utilization. There is still unallocated space that can bereclaimed. Still, it’s a finite end,” he agreed.

Only about 6 percent of the available address space in IPv4 is left. IPv4has been used since the Internet began. It provided a finite number ofaddresses, somewhere around 4 billion, he noted.

Change Is Coming

The movers and shakers that sit in the Internet’s control room havenot been sitting on their hands just watching the Internet fill up.They have a plan. That solution is called “IPv6.”

“IPv6 is the next step. The industry foresaw this and developed IPv6,which has 340 undecillion unique addresses, or more than 50 billionbillion billion for each person on Earth — more than enough to continueto support the ever-increasing demand for IP addresses,” Kevin R.Petschow, Global Technology Strategy Public Relations / CorporateCommunications for Cisco Systems, told TechNewsWorld.

Cisco designs and sells consumer electronics,networking and communications technology and services. Industry-wideattention has focused on a gradual changeover from IPv4 to the IPv6protocol. See here for a detailed view of thisprocess.

Forget Version 5

Ideas on how to keeping the Internet from filling up moved faster thanthe actual implementation. As is typical for things in the computerfield, the terminology and technology often play a name-changing game.

The successor to IPv4 had to be called “IPv6.” The ExperimentalStreaming Protocol Version 2 had already received the v5 designation,according to

“Regulatory bodies don’t move as quickly as technology. It’s a bitlike smoke and mirrors. Version 5 did exist but wasn’t put intomainstream use,” Scott Testa, marketing consultant and professor ofbusiness administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, toldTechNewsWorld.

What’s the Difference?

To understand the upgrade from a technical perspective, IPv6 increasesthe IP address size from 32 bits to 128 bits, he explained. The newprotocol supports more levels of addressing hierarchy and provides formany more addressable nodes with simpler auto-configuration ofaddresses.

IPv4 address depletion is predicted sometime in mid-2011, according toPotaroo, a website that tracks IPv4 address allocation by IANA, noted Petschow. But differentguestimates provide for sooner-and-later scenarios regarding when theInternet will fill up, suggested Sutton.

“A target date for the industry to have made the upgrade is Jan. 1,2012, based on a directive by the leader of the North American Region,the group that issues IP addresses. But that is questionable since noone has the authority to legislate such things,” said Sutton.

IP addresses get allocated by five regional organizations. No oneentity is in charge and no one has the authority to order a change, hesaid. Instead, various elements within the industry are pursuing thehardware changes and newer technology to bring about an eventualupgrade.

“The move to IPv6 is already happening slowly. There is a plan. But itmay not be moving as quickly as some would like,” he said.

Who Moves First?

As is thecase with any upgrade to technology, changeovers involve costs for newhardware and software.

“The move is not critical now for small-business owners and enterpriseusers of the Internet,” Testa said. “There will be a cost to theequipment upgrade. But by the time ISPs and those with large networksget there, the existing equipment will need to be replaced anyway.”

On a much larger scale, the move to IPv6 resembles what themovie industry recently faced, according to Sutton. It requiredreplacing existing film equipment with digital equipment.

End Users Go Last

Ultimately, everyone will have to make the move. Some segments arewaiting before they have to spend the money to make the upgrade,Sutton said. To the lay person, it will be mostly transparent.

But from the end users’ perspective, there is really nothing for themto do. Corporations have to handle their own networks. ISPs and othershave to manage the change.

“Still, the change to IPv6 will be gradual. It will happen over time.We haven’t reached that point yet that will force compliance.Eventually, the agencies handling IP addresses will have to say no tonew requests because there won’t be any left,” said Sutton.

Oil and Water Impact

When the mass migration to IPv6 gets fully underway is only part ofthe process. Some double jeopardy will exist, Petschow warned. The twoprotocols are mutually exclusive.

“So migrating a network from IPv4 to IPv6 requires technologysolutions to preserve IPv4 while executing a carefully orchestrated,step-by-step implementation plan,” he explained.

Regardless, the upgrade is not optional. The only leeway is when to doit and how much to pay.

The Cost Factor

The cost to enable IPv6 on a network depends on the number of productsand applications deployed and the strategy of deployment, Petschowsaid. For example, the integration of IPv6 includes fixed costs, suchas training and human resources associated with the project, andvariable costs dependent on the network devices and applications thatrequire IPv6 support.

For Cisco’s customers, networks built with the Cisco 7200 Seriesrouters only need a software upgrade to one of the Cisco IOS Softwarereleases that supports IPv6. For users on an older infrastructure ofmore than five years, a hardware upgrade would likely be required togain IPv6 support (for example, Cisco 2500 or 4000 series routers).

If older hardware needs to be replaced, looking ahead to use a “normallifecycle” replacement strategy will minimize the explicit cost todeploy IPv6 by acquiring the capability before it is needed, addedPetschow.

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