IPv4 Depletion Won’t Cause IPv6 Stampede

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IPv4 address blocks are now depleted, but don’t worry about running out of new addresses just yet, says Wayne Rash

When the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) issued the last blocks of IPv4 addresses to the Regional Internet Registrars, it wasn’t the end of the world, or even the end of the Internet. In fact, it’s not even the end of the world for IPv4 addresses. Chances are, you’ll still be able to use IPv4 addresses for a long time, probably for years.

What’s actually exhausted is the supply of new IPv4 addresses that the IANA can issue to the five regional Internet registries around the world. Those regions can still issue addresses to organisations that need them, and will continue to do so for the next few months.

In fact, the vast number of users of all types on the Internet will likely not notice any changes in their addressing. The major Internet providers all have IPv4 address pools which they can issue as needed and most of them are using private addressing pools and may never need to change. But there are some networks that will see the effects eventually. They include large businesses and other major organisations that act as their own ISPs and have their own pool of addresses. When those run out, they’ll need to find a way to react.

No mad rush

But right now, there’s no reason to rush madly into IPv6. For one thing, there’s virtually no place on the public Internet that is using IPv6, so you will have few choices of destinations. One estimate I saw recently puts the number of IPv6 sites on the global Internet as less than two tenths of a percent. While there are a few websites that do allow connectivity using IPv6, those also allow IPv4 connections.

So what’s all the fuss about? Eventually, large organisations are going to burn through their pools of IPv4 addresses, and will need to start moving to private networks that use NAT (network address translation) or they’ll need to start using IPv6 where they can. As demand for IPv4 addresses continues to grow and supply dwindles IPv6 networking will become more useful. Likely, businesses will find that some types of communications, such as between data centres, or between data centres and cloud providers or even within the data centre, that are able to use IPv6 with little or no disruption to other activities.

A move to IPv6 will free up IPv4 addresses for end-users, for devices that can’t use IPv6 and for network infrastructure that isn’t or can’t be enabled for IPv6. Eventually, portions of the public Internet will start supporting IPv6, but it’s not going to happen overnight. And even when it does start to happen, the change won’t be all at once.

Instead, what you’ll see is that some sites will enable IPv6 alongside their IPv4 sites, just as Google and Netflix have already done. But most users are going to need the ability to run IPv4 and IPv6 at the same time so they can get to the entire Internet. Fortunately, nearly all modern computers and infrastructure hardware are capable of supporting both protocols at the same time using dual IP stacks. For example Windows 7 computers have IPv6 networking installed and enabled by default. Most modern switches and routers will support both IPv4 and IPv6 now.

Enabling IPv6 in your organisation

The biggest hurdle for most companies is finding a way to ensure they can actually use IPv6 and then attempting to see if they can reach the places they need to reach. Unfortunately, major Internet providers don’t seem to have made the switch, so they’re not much help. There is, however, Hurricane Electric that provides an IPv6 tunnel broker service that will give you access to the IPv6 Internet even if your provider doesn’t offer a way.

So if there’s no big rush does that mean you don’t have to do anything? Not exactly. For many companies there will come a time, perhaps in a few years, when there will be no choice but to move some functions to IPv6. Eventually, there just won’t be enough addresses to go around, even with reuse through dynamic addressing and other means of slowing down the need.

The best way to make the transition is not to wait until the last minute. Instead, it’s worth taking the time to identify those devices on your network that can’t do IPv6 at all, and either schedule them for replacement or for transfer to a part of your network that won’t need IPv6 right away. For those devices that are capable of IPv6, but are not yet enabled for it, it’s probably worth considering enabling it, assuming that it’s economically feasible. If not, then pretend it’s not capable and treat the devices as you would if they weren’t capable at all.

Finally, for those devices and computers that appear to be able to support IPv6, you should plan on testing them. This might be the time to take advantage of Hurricane Electric’s services to see just how smoothly your network can transition into IPv6.

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Author: Wayne Rash
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