IPv6: Nobody Said You Had to Like It

Some say the move to IPv6 is just like broccoli: You don't have to like it to know you need it.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Mar 27, 2009
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The Internet is at crossroads. The current IPv4 address space is nearing exhaustion, while the next-generation IPv6 addressing system dramatically expands the available address space. Yet, to date, it hasn't been widely deployed.

And despite the impending IPv4 exhaustion, the Internet Society (ISOC) has published a study in which it reported that there are no concrete business drivers for IPv6.

With all the technology has to offer, is there actually no business case for IPv6?

The ISOC, a nonprofit corporation working to promote the open development of the Internet and overseeing infrastructure standards groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is aiming to tackle that question at an IETF meeting this week.

The U.S. government is moving forward on IPv6 use, but commercial enterprises -- at least in the U.S. -- have been dragging their feet. That's frustrating, supporters say, because the adoption of IPv6 could have profound implications for the Internet as a whole, allowing for a vast new crop of Internet-connected devices and technologies.

"IPv6 is not the question -- it's the answer," Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the ISOC, said during an IETF panel discussion on IPv6. "The question is do we want to continue to have an Internet that continues to be expanded by innovations from everywhere? In which case, we need to deploy IPv6 to continue to have global addressing."

"It's something of a broccoli technology, in that regard: It's better for you if you eat it but it's not necessarily appealing in its own right."

Daigle noted that the Internet development community has known for at least a decade that IPv4 does not provide enough address space to allow each machine to have its own address. IPv4 has a 32-bit address size, allowing for only 4.3 billion addresses.

On the other hand, the 128-bit address space of IPv6 allows for a staggering 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 possible addresses.

Though there's a need, Daigle commented that deployment of IPv6 is no trivial task: It's nothing less than the transformation of the Internet.

And it may need to happen quickly.

Richard Jimmerson, CIO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) -- the organization that assigns IP address space in North and South America -- told the panel that he expects the free pool of IPv4 address space to run out within the next two years.

But just because there will be no more available IPv4 address space for carriers doesn't mean that IPv4 itself will stop working in two years.

"After IPv4 runs out, it's not the same as running out of oil, where there would be no cars running the next morning," said Alain Durand, director of IPv6 architecture and Internet governance in Comcast's Office of the CTO. "Everything that has been deployed will still work, so don't panic."

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