IPv6 migration is not just about giving in to scaremongers

ITP.net dissects the math, gets off the fence and takes a side in the protocol debate

Tags: IPv6
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IPv6 migration is not just about giving in to scaremongers The crunch may not yet be here, but late action on IPv6 could have unwelcome results, says Stephen McBride, editor, ITP.net.
By  Stephen McBride Published  May 8, 2014

If you are non-technical, or even just differently technical, you may wonder what all the fuss is over IPv6. The cable wranglers have been squabbling about the problem for years now, but recently the Internet of Things has begun to resonate with a far wider audience and has propelled the discussion more into the mainstream.

IPs (the unique Internet Protocol addresses that allow Web-connected devices to share information) are now required for a mesmerisingly large, and growing, number of devices. Washing machines, fridges and TVs need them; security cameras need them; soon watches and items of clothing will need them. Because of the widening of machine types and their numbers, the demand for IPs has sky-rocketed. As a result, network specialists are straining to point out the dangers of running out of IPs, but apparently few organisations are listening. Very few have implemented v6, as they don't feel the need. Memories are still fresh of the apparent alarmism that was the Y2K bug and the C-suite has had enough.

And so two camps have arisen, much as they did with Y2K, but this time the "Don't panic" brigade has the upper hand.

But is this really alarmism? And who can you believe? What is known is that a device with a v4 IP will not be able to talk to one with a v6 IP, leading to a potential quagmire of incompatibility that could see the Internet as we know it grind to an ignominious halt. So it seems prudent to at least explore the facts surrounding the versions.

For those of you who don't like taking the word of experts when they tell you how many addresses IPv4 and v6 can support, we can prove it with a little number base arithmetic just so you know you are not being duped. I will assume no knowledge.

First of all, a word on what number bases are. In everyday life, we use base 10, or decimal. The number 999 is really made up of nine hundreds, nine tens, and nine units. Each "column" (units, tens, hundreds, etc) is the base number raised to a sequentially higher power. The power indicates how many times the number 1 should be cumulatively multiplied by the main number: 100 gives 1 (units); 101 gives 10 (tens); 102 gives 100 (hundreds) 103 gives 1000 (thousands); and so on.

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