IPv4 Officially Depleted, Eyes on IPv6

Historic day as official ceremony marks the end of the free pool of IPv4 addresses.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Feb 3, 2011
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At a ceremony held in Miami, the last five blocks of IPv4 address space were officially handed over to the five global Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). The event followed the final request earlier this week from APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Center) that triggered the exhaustion of the free pool of IPv4 address space.

With the official ceremony and depletion of the free pool of IPv4 addresses, the focus now turns to IPv6 adoption as a way to continue to expand Internet innovation. Rod Beckstom, CEO of ICANN, noted during the ceremony that the event marked one of the most important days in the history of the Internet.

"It marks far more than the transition from one Internet protocol to another; it marks the amazingly successful growth of the Internet with people all over the world coming online," Beckstom said during the event. "A pool of more than 4 billion Internet addresses has just been emptied this morning; completely depleted, there are no more."

IPv4 provides for up to 4.3 billion addresses. IANA's longstanding policy was that at the point there were only five blocks of /8 address remaining, each of the five global RIRs would receive one of the final blocks. Each /8 address block includes 16 million IPv4 addresses.

While the free pool of IPv4 addresses that IANA had to give to the RIRs is now exhausted, that doesn't mean the Internet will stop working, or change in the near term. RIRs still have their own pools of IPv4 address space which they can allocate to users within their own respective geographies.

In response to a question posed by InternetNews.com, Beckstom noted that the ICANN has done its job with respect to IPv4 allocation. He added that each individual RIR has its own policies for the final distribution of IPv4 space within their own region.

IPv4 will be around for many years

Raul Echeberria, chairman of the Number Resource Organization (NRO) noted that IPv4 will still be available to allocate by the RIRs for many years, but only in small blocks in an effort to help aid the transition to IPv6. Paul Wilson, director general of APNIC, predicted that his region will have small blocks of IPv4 to allocate for the next five to ten years.

"The current IPv4 based network will of course continue to function as usual," Lynn St Amour, president and CEO of the Internet Society said. "We can think of it as generational change -- the older, previous generation doesn't go away and still has a lot to contribute, but it is the newer generation that will carry the future."

IPv6, which has a 128-bit addressing scheme and support for 340 trillion, trillion, trillion (34 x 10 to the 38th power) Internet addresses is that future. To date, IPv6 adoption has been slow, but that is now likely to change.

"IPv6 adoption has been slow because we still had IPv4," Echeberria said in response to a question from InternetNews.com.

The other challenge facing IPv6 adoption is the fact that all Internet services work on IPv4 today. Olaf Kolkman, Chair of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), noted that in order for the Internet to continue to grow, organizations will have to move to IPv6. He warned that if IPv6 is not adopted there will be all manner of difficult workarounds that will restrict the growth of the Internet.

IPv6 or 'an increasingly brittle' Internet

"If we continue to remain dependent on IPv4, we will need to spend increasing resources operating an increasingly brittle and non-transparent network," Kolkman said. Such an Internet is likely to grow increasingly less capable of serving our needs."

Kolkman added that there is no danger to the Internet right now, and that it will continue to work tomorrow as it did yesterday. He stressed that the danger of not moving to IPv6 is about the future.

"The danger is in the loss of opportunities that might exist in a decade or two decades from now, if we move away from an end-to-end model where everyone can connect," Kolkman said.

According to Kolkman, in time an end-to-end IPv4 network will not exist as new users and services adopt IPv6. He added that if we move to IPv6 all things remain possible and there will be innovation in the future that is unimaginable today.

While the need for IPv6 seems obvious to Kolkman, he noted that there is no actual mandate in place that the global community as a whole move to the new addressing protocol.

"The is nobody centrally mandating the use of IPv6," Kolkman said. "We all have to get their on our own and we have to get there together."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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