Just What If The IPv4 Addresses Did Run Out?

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It's a question we should all ask.

For the average IT user or network manager it's a significant point to actually consider. For a managed services company such as SAS Group, based down in an actually leafy bit of "greater" Crawley, it's a fundamental question to ask.

Charles Davis, CEO of SAS believes the IP world is reaching crisis point.

He points out that the number of addresses for IPv4 has long been predicted to run out soon arguing that, meanwhile, our readiness to move over to IPv6 looks increasingly unlikely to happen any time soon. Conventional wisdom among many analysts said that the industry wouldn't be ready for the switch until 2015. Personally, based on the indicators he sees every day, Davis thinks it could be even more distant.

But - and this is a big but (no pun intended for American readers) - the world IS running out of IPv4 addresses. This means that two of the current booms in technology he identifies, cloud computing and the" Internet of Things", might not be sustainable. You can't have an Internet of Things, Davis argues, if the 'things' in question (gadgets) can't get on the Internet. They simply won't be able to without an IP address, and all the IP addresses available under the old system are rapidly being used up.

Davis believes that, while it might all sound a bit "Mad Max", the IP crisis does bear some of the hallmarks of an apocalypse. For example, there are some alarming inequalities in the way resources are being shared out, he notes with just 20% of the world owning the majority of IP addresses. Hardly ideal...  India, for example, - which when I last looked at my globe is quite a large country (with rapid IT deployment) has only three Class B address ranges (i.e. 130,000 addresses). In contrast as Davis points out, just one US IT company alone, HP, can trump that with its two class A IP address ranges (i.e. 32,000,000 addresses). Could this lack of infrastructure restrict the growth of the BRICs (Brazil, Russian, India and China) he asks, therefore, and will the developing nations become frustrated at their lack of, well, development?

In circumstances like these, Davis can see drastic measures being taken, such as... companies actually getting round the negotiation table and talking to each other. Perhaps some decisions will be taken sooner and innovative solutions will be dreamt up to free up more addresses.

Davis points out, it wasn't as if it were planned. Yes, it was a class issue, but only in the sense that the early allocation of IPv4 addresses was based on IP class allocation. This was in the days when the eventual exhaustion of the IPv4 ranges was not seen as an issue, like many things IT. So the allocation that took place seemed appropriate at the time. As a result, large amounts of address space were unused.  Indeed, some estimate that as many as 80% of allocated addresses are not currently in use.  

The cloud computing lobby, too, will be exerting pressure for the IP crisis to be resolved. For cloud computing to work, you need certain conditions, one of which is perfect communications. Optimum communications, in turn, could be dependent on the adoption of IPv6.

This brings Davis onto another aspect of the next version of IP, which he believes nobody has really given much air time to as yet. With IPv6 giving companies complete visibility over the movements and browsing habits of smart phone and laptop users, it could become a marketing manager's dream.

If only we had the same perfect information about the migration from IP4 to IP6... (watch this space).


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  • The free pool of IPv4 addresses is fully depleted as of last year on January 31st, 2011. While it isn't time to hit the panic button just yet, the signs are clear for planning for it. After all migration is nothing to be sneezed at. While IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist for some time, organizations need to follow a "phased" approach to migrate from IPv4 to IPv6 and all this requires tremendous thought. Given that we are as dependent on the internet heavily (to put it mildly), it is time for action. More details on this at http://www.wipro.com/Documents/whitepaper/IPv6_Whitepaper_Final.pdf

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