When they were in school, engineers and executives of telecommunications companies probably did like the rest of us and waited until the last minute to write papers and study for tests. Perhaps they can call on that last-minute ability to get things done now. The industry is lagging on the IPv6 transition -- and the bottom of the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) barrel has come into sight.
IPv4 is the system of numbers that form the addresses used on the Internet. For years, engineers have warned that the world must move from IPv4 -- which uses 32 bits -- to 128-bit IPv6. IPv6 can be spun into an almost unimaginable number of addresses.
The global infrastructure has slowly been transforming itself to "v6." The operative word is "slowly." Crunch time has arrived. The Number Resource Organization (NRO) -- the official representative of the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), the groups that administer addresses -- says the pool of IPv4 addresses has dwindled to 10 percent of the total. The NRO says the potential lack of addresses could affect the growth of the Internet. It offers suggestions, and ends on a hopeful note by saying that allocations of IPv6 addresses climbed 30 percent last year.
This Network Computing explanation of how the Internet can move from v4 to v6 is technical and a bit difficult to understand, but leads to the unmistakable conclusion that much work needs to be done. This is worrisome when juxtaposed against the NRO's warning that nine out of 10 v4 addresses are occupied.
Progress is being made. Marbridge Daily posted a story late last month saying that China Telecom is planning a full transition from IPv4 to IPv6. The story says testing is ongoing. It's a bit unclear, but full deployment of v6 could occur by 2015. The goals include creating a self-sustaining IPv6 business, creating gateways for enterprises and residences, and developing machine-to-machine services for v6.
To a great extent, the die is cast: Carriers, service providers, vendors and enterprises that have been disinterested in IPv6 can't get religion this late in the game and start from scratch to make the transition before the earlier addressing scheme is exhausted. There is enough ongoing activity, however, to suggest that an industry-wide acceleration of existing plans, combined with the workarounds that have been put in place to date, could stave off disaster.