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David 26 May 2011

So RIP IPv4

IPv4 has been with us since 1981, and has a history even beyond that, and yes, it’s running out.

A technology lasting 30 years is quite impressive – in computing terms it’s amazing. Can you imagine using the computer you used in 1981? Did you even HAVE a computer in 1981?

The internet began some 40 years ago but even one of the’ fathers of the internet’ Vint Cerf, is often quoted as saying “who the hell knew how much address space we needed?”. A little hard on himself there I think, as we’ve had pretty good value for money out of v4.

Now the story has reached the ears of the more mainstream news outlets, with numerous stories about the exhaustion of IPv4 resources, and the need to adopt IPv6. Yet all the doom and gloom is  unfounded as there really isn’t a problem.

The underpinning of the Internet is “IP” (Internet Protocol). A 32-bit number that every device connecting to the internet receives. All the .com’s, .co.uk’s, etc are just “shortcut names” for us humans to remember, but all translate to a number, and it’s this resource that’s now running short. IPv4 gave us 4.3 Billion possible combinations of address, but with the growth of the global internet, and mobile internet, as well as some mistakes with allocation along the way, means we’ve nearly worked through those numbers. That is why IPv6 is here and already being rolled out.

A v4 address looks like this : 212.67.202.5
A v6 address will look like this : 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334

IPv6 main difference is it increases this address space to 128 bits, which should hopefully be enough. The combination of numbers in IPv6 i:

Three hundred and forty undecillion, two hundred and eighty-two decillion, three hundred and sixty-six nonillion, nine hundred and twenty octillion, nine hundred and thirty-eight septillion, four hundred and sixty-three sextillion, four hundred and sixty-three quintillion, three hundred and seventy-four quadrillion, six hundred and seven trillion, four hundred and thirty-one billion, seven hundred and sixty-eight million, two hundred and eleven thousand, four hundred and fifty-six.

So that should be enough to keep us all ticking along for many more years to come even with internet connected fridges, twitter controlled microwaves and web-controlled robotic vacuum cleaners.

So, while IPv4 is nearing its life for new allocation – final assignments have been distributed to Regional internet registries (RIR) which then assign them to local internet registries (LIR’s)  – but the lack of new v4 addresses will not spell the end of the world.

2011 is certainly the time to look at v6. It isn’t going to go away, you can’t ignore it and as v6 becomes more widespread some disruption on the Internet as a whole may occur whilst it evolves, but the sky isn’t falling.

IPv6 may have only just entered common parlance, but actually started development in 1994. The reason IPv6 has sat in the background ever since, is purely because it wasn’t yet required. Why adopt something that no-one else has yet… A network isn’t a network if it’s not reaching people after all.

The main issue comes from the fact that whilst IPv6 rolls out, v4 will still stick around. Computers will be “dual stacked” meaning they run both IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time, due to the two being incompatible directly. The plan is that IPv6 will eventually be adopted to such a scale that v4 can eventually be “turned off”, but for a while we’ll have a dual stacked net, with v4 becoming less important as v6 adoption improves.

Here at Webfusion our core infrastructure is all IPv6 capable, we have IPv6 addresses and links and we can push IPv6 over. We are in the process of running labs & trials as we speak. There’s no real risk to us of pushing v6 out in a networking perspective, but whilst we’ve got the opportunity to test, it helps us ensure a sensible roll-out when the time comes. Slow and steady most certainly wins the race, plus there’s other elements for our teams to think about such as operating systems, software, back end systems…. The list goes on!

Over the course of this year, we’ll keep you informed on exactly what we’re doing, and may even have an opportunity for you to trial IPv6 on some of our core products before they’re actively rolled out!

In fact, some of the biggest names on the web are participating in “World IPv6 Day” on June 8th of this year, where they’ll use IPv6 to distribute their content and give V6 a test-drive & tyre kick.

Hopefully this blog post has been helpful in regards to informing you about the end of v4 and the birth of v6, and most importantly has let you know, We’re on it…

I still can’t see why they can’t just keep putting more dots on the end like I suggested… ;-)

The author, Davey Crane is a Network Engineer in the Webfusion UK Data Centre.

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3 Responses to “So RIP IPv4”

  1. Wired9 says:

    IPV6 would be useful if the major ISPs supported it. Otherwise it’s a fuss having to route through VPN/proxies just to see the IPV6 version of a site.

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  2. Nick Hill says:

    The longer roll-out of v6 is delayed, the more the Internet will appear to become a heirachial system of centre-looking connectivity, as users around the edge find themselves behind multiple private network address translated networks.

    Since my back-haul provider for my data-center based machine have just introduced native IPv6, I have configured all my services to be dual stacked, from my DNS to all domains. It took 2-3 hours, with about 30 seconds downtime for a MAC change reboot. It’s not difficult. Hopefully broadband providers will follow suit to begin providing dual stacked to all customers.

    The only problem I see is that some networks which advertise IPv6 addresses may not be properly configured, making a user experience problem for those broadband end users adopting IPv6.

    I would like to maintain my IPv6 compatibility, but may not be notified if my IPv6 configuration breaks at some time, unless IPv6 adoption hastens.

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  3. Tim says:

    Thanks for your insight Nick. It does appear the internet community is holding out on full roll-out.

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