IPv4 has a finite and quickly depleting address space. IPv4 has 2^32 addresses available or 4,294,967,296 addresses. The world population is around 7,000,000,000 people. It is easy to see that if every person on earth had a computer they could not have an IP address allocated to them. Not everyone has one now but then not everyone will need a computing device or their own public IP address. A vast majority of Internet users use NAT whether at home or at work and don't realize or care about it. Besides, some of us are IP address hogs. Many of us use more than a desktop computing device. I have a home LAN, a cell phone, VOIP and a GPS to name just a few. All these devices have IPv4 addresses. Most people that have these devices consider them critical to their lifestyle. At some point, someone will get the last IPv4 address or so it seems.
But we have IPv6. IPv6 has a definite advantage over IPv4. The main advantage is that it has 2^128 addresses or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses...virtually an infinite number. Clearly then this solves the IP address problem. With these numbers you could have as many IP addresses as you wanted for every person in the world for now and in the forseeable future. There are other advantages to IPv6 such as auto-configuration (mandatory), security (IPSec is mandatory) and many others related to engineering.
The problem is that not only are the big guys not migrating to it, but also no one has any motivation to use it. Currently, IPv6 traffic is .0026 per cent of IPv4 traffic. When was the last time you configured your desktop or notebook to go to an IPv6 web site? When did you last send or receive email via IPv6? When was the last time you used IPv6 ftp or connect to a game server using IPv6? Call your ISP sometime and ask them when they plan to start migrating users to IPv6. If your ISP helpdesk is like mine the customer support person won't have any idea what you are talking about.
Google just recently implemented IPv6. ISPs, Telcos, Microsoft, Facebook, MySpace, K5 and Yahoo have not implemented it and have no working plans to implement it or migrate to it in the near future either. So why aren't they doing something about it? In short they're not or at best they have it running on a few servers.
Since henny penny announced that the IPv4 sky was falling there have been workarounds that have held off the total depletion of IPv4 address space. The most significant of these has been the use of NAT (Network Address Translation). It allows a large number of devices to share one IP address. Some but not all of the earliest adopters of the Internet have given back millions of IPv4 address blocks and these have been placed back into the pool of available addresses. Even so, available IP address space continues to shrink.
Everyone in Internet engineering agrees that something needs to be done. Not everyone agrees that IPv6 is the way to solve the problem. The most visible aspect of this is inoperability failure. Most Internet servers/routers/switches are not currently talking to IPv6 clients. IPv6 clients however are able talk to IPv6 servers but at this point...so what?
U.S. government agencies for example had to be IPv6 compliant by June 30th of this year. This mandate though met, did not say it had to be used, it just had to be IPv6 ready. The U.S. government agencies having met the goal however did not translate into significantly more IPv6 traffic to these government agencies. The U.S. and Europe own most of the IPv4 address space but Asia, which is the largest user of IPv4 address space is also the largest user of IPv6. Even so, there little to no content on IPv6 and therefore there is little usage of it. This fact alone is preventing migration to IPv6; no one uses it so why migrate to it.
The cost of migrating
The fundamental issue is that the specification states that IPv6 is an alternative to IPv4 when it should have been an extension of IPv4. For anyone providing content on the Internet to make IPv6 available they have to:
- Acquire IPv6 address space
- Configure DNS to announce the IPv6 names alongside IPv4 names
- Then configure all their public servers to answer to IPv6 as well as IPv4 requests.
In other words, businesses and consumers have to go through an extra expense and effort to transition to IPv6 and when they do, they receive no benefit in doing so. This also applies to the clients doing essentially the same thing and when they do, they have no immediate benefit either. Migration to IPv6 has to be automatic and transparent. Otherwise it will be a bigger problem then Y2K. There needs to be a universally accepted plan that when implemented will bring everyone that has a computer on board at roughly the same time. This is the big failure of IPv6 as it is today. There is every reason to do it countered by every reason to not transition to IPv6.
As it stands right now, who will be the first person to disconnect from the current IPv4 network where they can send and receive email, buy products and services via e-commerce sites like Amazon.com or Ebay, conduct searches on search engines, look something up on Wikipedia, surf for porn and do their personal banking? If that person decided to do that would he now be able to reach any of those sites?
The Address Translation solution
Address translation was a band-aid that was developed to address the IPv4 problem. Address translation and its subset port address translation however are only temporary solutions. It still puts off the inevitable. If you have a broadband firewall/router and a number of internal computing devices on your LAN you are likely using address translation. What this does is it allows a large number of devices to access the public internet with the same IPv4 address plus a port number. Each port number is different and is stored in a table in your firewall/router. When you receive an Internet response to your request the firewall/router then knows which computer to send the response to.
For years address translation has worked very well. The only problem is that it doesn't scale indefinitely. There are a limited amount of ports. On your home network this isn't a problem. You are not going to use 65000+ ports even if you could connect every electronic device in your home. The problem arises with large enterprises or ISPs that use address translation. When it does, they request more IPv4 addresses and the depletion of IPv4 addresses though slowed, still occur. Address translation has delayed the inevitable to some point in the future.
The IPv4 'Stock Market': The next wave
There have been quite a number of discussions about buying and selling IPv4 addresses as a finite commodity. There are many users of IPv4 address space that have more IPv4 address space then they need. Here are a few holders of /8 CIDR blocks (each /8 consists of 16,777,214 public IP addresses). Some of these businesses and agencies might need this many but do they?:
General Electric - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Level 3 Communications - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses - critical military use is on their own non-public networks
United States Department of Defense - 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Level 3 Communications (originally BBN) - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
IBM - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
AT&T WorldNet Services 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Hewlett-Packard 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Hewlett-Packard (originally DEC, then Compaq) - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Apple Inc. - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 188.8.131.52/8 16,777,214 addresses
Ford Motor Company - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Computer Sciences Corporation - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Chopped up between different Cable Networks - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Royal Signals and Radar Establishment - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
AT&T Global Network Services - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Halliburton Company - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Merit Network, Inc. - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Performance Systems International - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Eli Lilly and Company - 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Amateur Radio Digital Communications - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Interop Show Network - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Bell-Northern Research - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Prudential Securities Inc. - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Department for Work and Pensions of UK - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc. - 18.104.22.168/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Cap debis ccs (Mercedes-Benz) - 22.214.171.124/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
Merck and Co., Inc. - 126.96.36.199/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Department of Defense Network Information Center - 188.8.131.52/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
United States Postal Service - 184.108.40.206/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
SITA - Société Internationale De Telecommunications Aeronautiques - 220.127.116.11/8 - 16,777,214 addresses
These are just a few. Some of the above are scheduled to give back blocks. But clearly there are companies and Department of Defense that do not need that much address space. Does Merck, Ford Motor Company, Halliburton, Eli Lilly, Prudential Securities, etc need that much address space? I doubt they do. The DoD alone has 167,772,140 public IP addresses.
The Final Solution: Let IPv6 Die
What I think should be done now is to scrap the IPv6 specification as it stands. Retain the useful parts of IPv6, form a new engineering group and come up with a sensible and workable plan that seamlessly transitions from IPv4 to something similar to IPv6.
I find it hard to believe that with all the world's brain power in this field, that the only solution possible is the IPv6 specification that we have now. The current half-baked plan as it stands is doomed for failure and extinction or at best setting back Internet usage 10 years by creating isolated islands of content providers and users.
Requirements for a new plan should include the following:
- It should be a seamless migration to users of the public network. Waiting for the last IPv4 address to be used should not be an issue.
- It should be backwards compatible with IPv4 and extend IPv4 until the new IP address space is the only IP version being used. IPv4 should just fade away.
- It should be required and NOT available as an alternative. Everyone needs to jump on the bus.
- It should be easy to set up and be maintained by content providers. Running dual systems should not be necessary.
It's been 16 years since the problem has been addressed and very little to nothing has been done to migrate away from IPv4. We still have time to scrap IPv6 and come up with a more solid, reasonable and workable plan. The time to start is now.