When the Internet and its underlying protocols were devised over 30 years ago, no one ever imagined it would become as integral and as widely utilized as it is today. The success of this worldwide network was created in part due to an explosion of information and its accessibility from an increasing amount of Internet-enabled devices, including not only PC’s and cell phones, but also automobiles and even home appliances.
All this integration of technology and Internet presents a brave new frontier, but it has one crucial caveat — each device needs its own IP address to connect and identify itself to the network. As a result, there will soon not be enough addresses to go around as the Internet’s current network protocol, “Internet Protocol version 4 (or IPv4)”, is on pace to exhaust its available addresses early in 2011. When that happens, all of the addresses will have been allocated to the ISPs of the world, and they will no longer be able to get additional addresses to hand out to new users. Eventually (over the next few years) the ISPs will themselves run out, and no longer be able to fulfill their own customer requests for new addresses.
Enter “Internet Protocol version 6” (IPv6), the solution to this impending problem and a major upgrade to the IP protocol. IPv6 was originally standardized in 1998 and offers over 18 quintillion unique addresses in over 18 quintillion networks (compared to an overall total of merely 4 billion addresses in IPv4). Whereas IPv4 uses 32-bit host addresses (most easily recognized in the form of the “dotted-quad”, e.g. “22.214.171.124”), IPv6 uses 128-bit host addresses that look like “2620:0:1cfe:face:b00c::3”.
IPv6 offers more than just additional address space: advancements in
IP auto configuration, Quality of Service (QoS), and security make this a desirable upgrade from IPv4.
Despite these advances, however, the prospect of making IPv4 and IPv6 interoperate is an imposing challenge that is further illustrated by the limited deployment in its 15-year existence. This challenge must be met, however, because as the last remaining IPv4 address space is consumed, new users and applications will be forced to use IPv6 exclusively. Those who do not support the new protocol will be unable to access the latest sites and services.
To meet this challenge, Peak is in the process of developing the capability to support IPv6 networks and websites, allowing customers to continue using the Internet without regard to which protocol is needed to access the desired services. PEAK has already requested, and been allocated, IPv6 address space (2607:f678::/32). This block gives Peak as many *networks* to use as there are single *addresses* in the entire IPv4 address space. It’s like moving a large family from a studio apartment to its own state.
One thing you may rest easy over, however, is that computer operating systems have been supporting IPv6 for many years now. For example, Windows has supported it since XP and has merely been waiting for the networks to catch up. Some specific applications may need to be upgraded, but for the most part, your computer already knows what to do once your network is configured for the new protocol.
Many experts believe that this transition could be disruptive for Internet users, however with a well planned deployment, it can be a gradual process that allows for mixed IPv4 and IPv6 networks for years to come, and this is the approach Peak is taking.
There is no fixed date for a complete transition, but interoperability
measures similar to PEAK’s are being put in place throughout the world so that the Internet may continue to grow beyond the limits of IPv4.
You can watch the IPv4 Exhaustion Counter to see the estimated amount of address space remaining.
Compliments to Alan Batie, Senior System Engineer at PEAK, for contributions to this post.