The unexpected repercussions facing IPv6 holdouts

The need for more addresses is becoming acute with the Internet of Things, but the IPv4 transition is sluggish. Here’s what to do


The transition to IPv6 has been glacially slow, but the topic is heating up once again now that the Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses.

Europe, Asia and Latin America have already been forced to parcel out the few IPv4 addresses they have left. Now the American Registry for Internet Numbers, or ARIN, which distributes IP addresses in North America, has a wait list. ARIN “strongly encourages you to deploy IPv6 on your networks and equipment, so that they can remain visible to the entirety of the Internet.”

IPv4 has about 4.3 billion addresses, and ARIN – one of five regional Internet registries in the world – only has about 150,000 addresses left in the pool, according to NetworkWorld.

Yet, we’re going to need billions more, thanks to the Internet of Things and wearables market.

The solution exists: IPv6. The protocol allows for an almost unlimited number of possible addresses – and yes, they’re available right now. So why is the transition so painfully slow?

Many IT departments have put off the transition because it’s time-consuming and expensive. Trying to explain the need for IPv6 to the C-level suite can be tricky, particularly when there’s no obvious benefit to users.

IPv6 can, however, simplify networks and speed up the Web experience, though it still drives less than 10 per cent of the world’s traffic, said Stephen Lawson in NetworkWorld.

For some companies, the move to IPv6 won’t be as difficult as anticipated. But for others – those with larger networks – it could be much more painful, since everything from routers to firewalls, load balancers and DNS servers must all be reconfigured and IPv6-ready, says Iljitsch van Beijnum in Ars Technica.

There’s also a need to test whether off-the-shelf and custom-built applications are IPv6-ready. (ARIN has a guide, Preparing Applications for IPv6, for writing and migrating networked applications for IPv6 networks.)

So, there hasn’t exactly been a rush to move from IPv4 to IPv6. And not everyone agrees it’s a pressing matter.

“IPv6 with its 340 trillion trillion trillion possible unique combinations has been sitting in the wings as a replacement for IPv4 since about 2000,” says Bernard Cole in the EE Times. “But few if any large organizations with the bankroll to establish a presence on the Internet have felt it was economically viable to invest in it until recently.”

Except for mobile users whose wireless service providers are just now making the shift, the transition to IPv6 will take years and even decades, he predicts, pointing out that Google’s per country adoption charts indicate that in the U.S. just 20 per cent of users who come to Google do so via IPv6 connections.

Here in Canada, the transition to IPv6 has also been slow. Byron Holland, president and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), told CBC this is, in part, due to the fact users know nothing about it: “No consumer is calling their ISP and saying, ‘Damn it, give me IPv6 today.’”

But, at some point down the road, IPv4 users won’t be able to access all the content available on the Internet: IPv4 can only handle 32-bit addresses, and not the 128-bit IPv6 addresses. Since IPv6 is not backward compatible, it means network admins will be faced with creating workarounds so legacy hardware can talk to IPv6 devices – until they can eventually rip-and-replace that legacy hardware.

Clearly, this isn’t going to happen overnight. But, if you haven’t already, it’s time to assess your situation, talk to trusted partners and put together a roadmap, so when the time comes – and it will – you’ll be ready.

Comments are closed.