IPv4 Exhaustion Not Much Cause for Concern

Wayne Rash
When the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned the final blocks of IPv4 addresses this week, the move officially exhausted the supply of new IPv4 addresses. Until the end of January, there were seven remaining blocks of numbers. Two of those were requested by the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Registry (RIR), leaving five blocks. Of those, one each will be assigned to the five RIRs, leaving no remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses. That final allocation will probably have happened by the time you read this.

According to Alain Durand, director of software engineering at Juniper Networks, each Regional Internet Registry will have exhausted its IPv4 allocations by the end of 2011, and probably much sooner than that. When that happens, there will no longer be any new IPv4 addresses to allocate to telecoms, ISPs or large companies that maintain their own address pool. But that doesn't mean it's time to panic.

According to Durand, these users can make adjustments to the way they use their IPv4 addresses, such as by setting up private networks and using network address translation (NAT) to create their own internal addresses, and thus to conserve their assigned IP addresses. Durand said that there are a number of ways that this can be done, and as a result, there's little need to rush out to convert to IPv6.

In fact, changing to IPv6 might be very difficult to accomplish. Depending on how you access the Internet, you may find that your ISP isn't ready to provide IPv6 access, and while it may be using IPv6 on the external portion of its network, it's continuing to provide a private pool of IPv4 addresses for customers. In addition, you may find out that your network infrastructure isn't ready to change.

According to Martin Levy, director of IPv6 strategy for Hurricane Electric, just because a piece of equipment is capable of using IPv6, that isn't the same thing as having IPv6 enabled. 'Not everything supports IPv6,' Levy said, 'and of the ones that support it, it may not have been enabled.'

Of course, eventually you need to incorporate IPv6 into your operation, but Durand cautions that doesn't mean you should drop IPv4. 'You can add IPv6, but you have to keep IPv4,' he said. The reason is, according to Durand, that only 0.15 percent of websites are currently IPv6-enabled. You have to have IPv4 to view the others. Fortunately, he said, most IPv6-enabled devices will support both protocols at the same time.

So what should you do? The best advice is to start enabling and using IPv6 where you can and where it makes sense. You might want to add IPv6 support to your website, for example, if your Web hosting provider supports it. You might want to turn on IPv6 on your router so that IPv6-enabled clients and infrastructure items can make use of IPv6.

And you might want to start testing your network to see what works in an IPv6 environment. Hurricane Electric has a free IPv6 tunnel broker available for those who would like to try out IPv6 at http://tunnelbroker.net/. The site provides the necessary configuration information and the account registration so that you can actually use the IPv6 Internet by first tunneling through IPv4 to get there. This way, even if your direct access to the Internet is going to be IPv4 for a while, you can at least find out if you're ready.

So the word is: There's no reason to panic. IPv6 is here, new IPv4 addresses won't be available, but nobody is going to take away the addresses you already have. You can take your time adopting IPv6, but eventually you will have to take the plunge.

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