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Industry Must Tackle IPv4 Depletion

The IT industry has ignored the availability of IPv6 addresses for too long at the risk of adding unnecessary risk and complexity to internet architectures, says Axel Pawlik, managing director of RIPE NCC.

The Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. It is a not-for-profit 6,000-strong member organisation, made up of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecommunication organisations, educational institutions, governments, regulators and large corporations.

Based in Amsterdam, RIPE NCC was recently accused of turning a blind eye to e-crime by Andy Auld, head of intelligence for the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) – an accusation the registrar strenuously denies. Earlier this year, its managing director spoke to eWEEK Europe on a different – and potentially more serious – issue: the depletion of IP4 addresses.

Pawlik said: “RIPE is a community of people responsible for ensuring the administrative and technical co-ordination necessary to enable the operation of the internet. The community formulates the policies and frameworks that govern the way that IP networks are operated and is an open and transparent facilitator of the coordination of IP address registration and related technology.

We barely have anything to do with domain names, as opposed to the likes of [UK domain name registry] nominet, but rather, we look after the technology infrastructure, such as operating the k-root server, one of the world’s 13 root name servers and we operate reverse DNS [domain name server] for the IP address space allocated in the RIPE region. Additionally, we also provide secondary DNS for some of the smaller, less developed country-code top level domains.”

End of the line for IP version 4?

The RIPE NCC head explained how the fourth revision in the development of the internet protocol (IP), published in 1981, has been in use since “the beginning of the internet”. But, addressing the registry’s main ongoing concern, he said: “We knew we’d run out [of IPv4 addresses]”.

“The first scare was in the very early ‘90s, where classful addressing in use at the time meant that class B and C address blocks were given out in a quite wasteful way,” he added, referring to the three ranges of address reserved for private networks. Of the approximately four billion IPv4 addresses in use, these addresses are not routable outside of private networks without network address translation.

“So the community got together to ask how we could improve on the network architecture and slow the growth of routing tables and use of IPv4 addresses, introducing classless inter-domain routing [in 1993],” he continued.

Classless inter-domain routing (CIDR) does not allocate address space to ISPs and end users on 8-bit segments, but on any address bit boundary, he explained: “Networks can be really small or really big.”

But the internet has grown dramatically and the pool of available IPv4 addresses is still running out, he said: “IANA has said it will run out of numbers it can delegate to the RIRs on 9 June 2011, and we’re guessing those last blocks will run out for us around St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March 2012. After that, we can’t give out IPv4 addresses, unless maybe some are returned to us.”