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The Rocky Road To IPv6

The Rocky Road To IPv6

The Internet as we know it is apparently running out of space. No, this does not mean that existing websites will not be able to add more content.

But sometime in the next few years the space for new IP addresses -- the kind normally used up to this point, anyway -- will be nearly depleted, according to IPv6.net.

The ubiquitous growth of mobile devices and never-ending tide of malware and other browser exploits are hogging all the allocated space. So are the mega address blocks that large corporations swept up over the last decade, explained Michael Sutton, vice president for security Planning for the next peak season? Ensure your website is fast, secure and available 24/7. Click here to learn how. research at Zscaler.

Despite his agreement that the industry is running out of IP address space, his company's researchers recently issued a report stating that ample space remains -- if better usage is applied.

Much like any other commodity, IP addresses on the Internet are a matter of supply and demand. The supply used to outpace the demand. Now, however, the present IP version 4 (IPv4) protocol used to manage the Internet has a rapidly dwindling number of IP address left. The North American Region of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) issued a call for the industry to complete the changeover by Jan. 1, 2012.

"The Internet still isn't close to coming to a grinding halt. No one knows when that will occur. I don't feel it's a case of the sky is falling," Sutton told TechNewsWorld.

A Question of Scale

Zscaler's State of the Web research report for Q1 2010 suggests much of the Internet remains untouched. Sutton does not dispute that IP address space is filling up. But he sees a shortage later rather than sooner.

"Part of the problem is driven by a lack of policing the allocation and utilization. There is still unallocated space that can be reclaimed. Still, it's a finite end," he agreed.

Only about 6 percent of the available address space in IPv4 is left. IPv4 has been used since the Internet began. It provided a finite number of addresses, somewhere around 4 billion, he noted.

Change Is Coming

The movers and shakers that sit in the Internet's control room have not been sitting on their hands just watching the Internet fill up. They have a plan. That solution is called "IPv6."

"IPv6 is the next step. The industry foresaw this and developed IPv6, which has 340 undecillion unique addresses, or more than 50 billion billion billion for each person on Earth -- more than enough to continue to support the ever-increasing demand for IP addresses," Kevin R. Petschow, Global Technology Strategy Public Relations / Corporate Communications for Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), told TechNewsWorld.

Cisco designs and sells consumer electronics, networking and communications technology and services. Industry-wide attention has focused on a gradual changeover from IPv4 to the IPv6 protocol. See here for a detailed view of this process.

Forget Version 5

Ideas on how to keeping the Internet from filling up moved faster than the actual implementation. As is typical for things in the computer field, the terminology and technology often play a name-changing game.

The successor to IPv4 had to be called "IPv6." The Experimental Streaming Protocol Version 2 had already received the v5 designation, according to IPv6.net.

"Regulatory bodies don't move as quickly as technology. It's a bit like smoke and mirrors. Version 5 did exist but wasn't put into mainstream use," Scott Testa, marketing consultant and professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, told TechNewsWorld.

What's the Difference?

To understand the upgrade from a technical perspective, IPv6 increases the IP address size from 32 bits to 128 bits, he explained. The new protocol supports more levels of addressing hierarchy and provides for many more addressable nodes with simpler auto-configuration of addresses.

IPv4 address depletion is predicted sometime in mid-2011, according to Potaroo, a website that tracks IPv4 address allocation by IANA, noted Petschow. But different guestimates provide for sooner-and-later scenarios regarding when the Internet will fill up, suggested Sutton.

"A target date for the industry to have made the upgrade is Jan. 1, 2012, based on a directive by the leader of the North American Region, the group that issues IP addresses. But that is questionable since no one has the authority to legislate such things," said Sutton.

IP addresses get allocated by five regional organizations. No one entity is in charge and no one has the authority to order a change, he said. Instead, various elements within the industry are pursuing the hardware changes and newer technology to bring about an eventual upgrade.

"The move to IPv6 is already happening slowly. There is a plan. But it may not be moving as quickly as some would like," he said.

Who Moves First?

As is the case with any upgrade to technology, changeovers involve costs for new hardware and software.

"The move is not critical now for small-business owners and enterprise users of the Internet," Testa said. "There will be a cost to the equipment upgrade. But by the time ISPs and those with large networks get there, the existing equipment will need to be replaced anyway."

On a much larger scale, the move to IPv6 resembles what the movie industry recently faced, according to Sutton. It required replacing existing film equipment with digital equipment.

End Users Go Last

Ultimately, everyone will have to make the move. Some segments are waiting before they have to spend the money to make the upgrade, Sutton said. To the lay person, it will be mostly transparent.

But from the end users' perspective, there is really nothing for them to do. Corporations have to handle their own networks. ISPs and others have to manage the change.

"Still, the change to IPv6 will be gradual. It will happen over time. We haven't reached that point yet that will force compliance. Eventually, the agencies handling IP addresses will have to say no to new requests because there won't be any left," said Sutton.

Oil and Water Impact

When the mass migration to IPv6 gets fully underway is only part of the process. Some double jeopardy will exist, Petschow warned. The two protocols are mutually exclusive.

"So migrating a network from IPv4 to IPv6 requires technology solutions to preserve IPv4 while executing a carefully orchestrated, step-by-step implementation plan," he explained.

Regardless, the upgrade is not optional. The only leeway is when to do it and how much to pay.

The Cost Factor

The cost to enable IPv6 on a network depends on the number of products and applications deployed and the strategy of deployment, Petschow said. For example, the integration of IPv6 includes fixed costs, such as training and human resources associated with the project, and variable costs dependent on the network devices and applications that require IPv6 support.

For Cisco's customers, networks built with the Cisco 7200 Series routers only need a software upgrade to one of the Cisco IOS Software releases that supports IPv6. For users on an older infrastructure of more than five years, a hardware upgrade would likely be required to gain IPv6 support (for example, Cisco 2500 or 4000 series routers).

If older hardware needs to be replaced, looking ahead to use a "normal lifecycle" replacement strategy will minimize the explicit cost to deploy IPv6 by acquiring the capability before it is needed, added Petschow


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