Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not Y2K Again, But We've Run Out Of IP Addresses

Back in 1976, when the Internet (Big I) was created, 4.3 billion unique IP addresses seemed plenty. But the popularity of the internet (small i), and the abundance of devices has created a shortage 35 years later. Luckily, scientists have been working on this knowledge for some time and it appears a solution is at hand. It is not so simple as creating more addresses, a new internet protocol is needed. "This new standard will support a virtually inexhaustible number of devices, experts say. But there is some cause for concern because the two systems are largely incompatible, and as the transition takes place, the potential for breakdowns is enormous."

So depending how old your internet device, be it computer, game console, mobile phone, may be, you may find it working or failing. Alas we may face a Y2K potential for system failure. And so test are planned prior to deployment. Both Comcast and Time Warner, as well as a number of other companies are working toward the test scheduled for June 8. Called World IPv6 Day, the test should help determine how problematic the switchover will be. And hopefully for the consumer, it will occur without any hiccups.

As consumers, the internet has replaced the phone as the most important device to communicate with others. It needs to continue to improve to support new addresses but to also address security issues, speed, and connectivity. Most consumers know or care about the backbone that makes the internet run; they simply want it to run. That it has taken over 30 years for us to run out of IP addresses is impressive. That more is needed is a necessity.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't run out yet, but we're getting close. Still, there are ways to stretch our existing supply.

    Even when we make the switch to IPv6, it will run in parallel with IPv4 for a few years. This will allow all those lovely legacy devices that can't be upgraded to operate just fine. What will "break" for them is that they will have a harder time communicating with newer machines that get an IPv6 address, but no IPv4 address.

    But this can be mitigated with middleware. We already use Network Address Translation (NAT) to transparently hook multiple machines to a single IP address.

    You've likely got a router at home, provided by your telco or cable co, and it's using NAT to share its one IP address with your laptop, your cable box, your internet-enabled TV, your video game system, your kids' devices, your smartphone, etc.

    You could conceivably swap out that router and never have to worry if all those devices can handle IPv6, because it will do the translation for you transparently.