With the world running out of IPv4 addresses, everyone needs to be ready for IPv6

Now that the final five blocks of Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses have been distributed to the world’s regional Internet registries (RIRs), the IT community at large must now prepare themselves for the transition to IPv6-ready environments.

When IPv4 was first deployed in 1981, there were roughly 4,294,967,296 addresses available. Nowadays, with more people connecting to the Internet and using a growing number of mobile devices, these addresses are quickly being used up. With this realization, the new Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) standard was created and deployed in 1999. The number of available addresses for IPv6 is around 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456.

Rod Beckstrom, the CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit international corporation that’s responsible for maintaining the operational stability of the Internet, said the recent deployment of the final IPv4 blocks of addresses marks an opportunity to shift to the IPv6.

“The depletion of IPv4 addresses marks an opportunity to shift to an IP that offers a pool of available Internet addresses so large that it’s difficult even to imagine,” Beckstrom said. “It will be a billion trillion times larger than the 4B addresses available under the old protocol (IPv4). We need to speed the global adoption of IPv6 because the future of the Internet and the innovation it fosters lies within IPv6.”

Olaf Kolkman, Internet Architecture Board (IAB) chair, said the transition to the new IP standard requires attention from many people in the IT industry including equipment vendors, Internet service providers (ISPs), chief technology officers (CTOs), systems administrators, network administrators and more.

“Most of the Internet today only runs IPv4,” Kolkman said. “As a service provider, you want to offer your clients, regardless of what (standard) they’re using, the same service. A lot of your clients will only have IPv4-capable devices. You have to make sure those IPv4-only devices can connect to the IPv6 services too.”

Businesses of all sizes must also start the transition to IPv6 as the RIRs, distribute the rest of the IPv4 addresses to their respective regions (AfriNIC for Africa, APNIC for Asia Pacific, ARIN for North America, LACNIC for Latin America and the Caribbean and RIPE NCC for Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia).

“If businesses don’t make the transition to IPv6 now, the next 2B or 3B customers that run IPv6 only won’t be able to do business with you,” Kolkman warns.

This is because IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are not automatically compatible with each other. The Number Resource Organization (NRO) recommends that ISPs work on implementing a plan for their customers that will allow them to access the Internet using IPv6 and IPv6/IPv4.

Paul Andersen, president of Toronto-based ISP egateNetworks, said now that the last blocks of IPv4 addresses have been given out by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), it means his company and other ISPs will have to start planning to migrate customers to IPv6.

“We’re educating customers on IPv6 now and on why it’s important to make the transition,” Andersen said. “Almost all our services at egateNetworks have some degree of IPv6 capability right now.”

While Andersen said his company has been successful with its early adopter customers, he admits there have been some challenges along the way. Sometimes the client’s equipment doesn’t support IPv6, he said. In order to have an IPv6-ready network, certain equipment within an organization will need to be upgraded such as routers, software, switches and servers.

Perhaps one of the most important things right now is in raising awareness and education for businesses, Andersen said.

“IPv6 is not a complicated technology, but people need to learn there are some differences,” he said. “One of them is with how most networks are connected with IPv4 and IPv6. Most are connected with network address translation, where an IPv4 address is shared with all the devices in an organization. With IPv6, each device has a globally unique address, so people need to be aware that each device and every situation will be different.”

The average home user on the other hand, will likely not notice a change at all with the transition to IPv6, Andersen said.

“The service provider may just tell them they’ll do an upgrade to IPv6,” he said. “The hope is they don’t need to know anything about the transition because the home user can just plug in their devices and they should work.”

To help further spread awareness about IPv6, the Internet Society (ISOC) has announced World IPv6 Day which will take place on June 8 this year. This day will allow companies to enable IPv6 on their main Web sites for 24 hours in the hopes of making the transition period to IPv6 as seamless as possible.

Lynn St. Amour, president and CEO at ISOC, said World IPv6 Day will be a day that’s dedicated to generating more awareness and readiness.

“World IPv6 Day is an initiative from the Internet Society that puts a rigorous test on IPv6 across the world on all levels,” St. Amour said. “It will be a day to put more attention towards IPv6 and the state of readiness.”

Follow Maxine Cheung on Twitter: @MaxineCheungCDN.

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Maxine Cheung
Maxine Cheung
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