IPv4 is running out of time
Middle East IPv4 allocation set to run out in 2012, IPv6 implementation going slowly
The Middle East is set to run out of IPv4 addresses in the first half of 2012, according to Axel Pawlik, managing director of RIPE NCC, one of five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) providing internet resource allocations, registration services and coordination activities for the internet on a global basis.
IPv4 addresses are numeric addresses that identify a computer and allow it to connect to the internet.
"When the computer engineers in the late Seventies started connecting computers to each other, they invented a protocol, and at some point you have to make a design decision of how many numbers are feasible and how long these numbers should be. They decided it should be 32 bits. They thought that that should be plenty of addresses for the next 100 years or so. Now the internet has taken up a big slice of our daily lives. In the late 80s and early 90s we realised that there was going to be an issue because there were too many computers hooked up to the internet and we were about to run out of address blocks," Pawlik told ITP.net.
Part of the problem was that in the early days of the internet, addresses were given out in large blocks or millions of addresses in three separate large classes, the smallest block available was 256 addresses for small networks.
"When you give out millions of addresses at a time to a big corporation you are bound to waste some of those addresses, so the internet community came up with CIDR [Classless Inter-Domain Routing] and did away with those three big classes of address blocks so there was a possibility to give away 32 addresses instead of 256 in the mid-90s," said Pawlik.
As the number of IPv4 addresses continued to shrink, the internet engineering community decided to work on developing a new protocol with a larger number of available addresses to take over from IPv4, so they developed IPv6.
"Obviously the 32 bits were not enough for the addresses, so we made it 128, because that seems to be a really large number and it turns out to be an extremely large number. It basically guarantees that there are enough addresses certainly to connect all of the computers and gadgets and devices on the planet today and in 10 and 15 years time certainly. Every cent coin on the planet or every molecule on the planet would be able to get an IPv6 address. So it is really a humungous number," said Pawlik.
IPv6 addresses are distributed by the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA), which then gives large address blocks to the regional internet registries, such as RIPE NCC, based in Amsterdam. These regional internet authorities then distribute blocks to their members. RIPE NCC currently has a membership association of 7,500 members and its service area covers Europe, Middle East and parts of central Asia as well as the ex Soviet Union.
Due to a bad design decision in the 1990s, IPv6 and IPv4 are not compatible and computers running the two different version of IP cannot talk to each other, although everything that is connected on IPv4 will continue to work.
But, as the internet continues to grow, so the ISPs need more addresses to connect new customers and as they connect new customers, those addresses will be primarily IPv6.
"What that means is that all the people out there with shiny new IPv6 addresses will have some trouble connecting to all the old computers using IPv4. It becomes apparent that if you are on IPv4, currently you are safe, but there are new people out there and if you are a web shop for example and you have potential customers out there that are connected to IPv6 only, they will not be able to see you easily and you might lose that business," said Pawlik.
He said it is very important that internet users connect themselves using IPv6 and said that people need to speak to their internet service providers about where they are with IPv6 implementation.
"There are many ISPs out there that have already rolled out their IPv6 services.
We have a project here at RIPE NCC called IPv6 Ripeness, which gives stars to the our members, for doing something with IPv6, so you get one star for the allocation of an address block, and if you do things with that, you get more stars," said Pawlik.
"In the RIPE NCC service region, about 53% of ISPs don't have IPv6, which is really bad, but on the other hand it means that 47% have received an allocation, which is really good. Two years ago that number was way smaller."
In the Middle East region Iran and Saudi stick out in absolute numbers of IPv6 adoption and there has been an increased growth in adoption in the region in 2010 to 2011. Companies should also look at their IPv6 plan, although it is unlikely they would have to upgrade equipment, according to Pawlik.
"IPv6 was designed in the 90s, it was put into encrypment this century and anything you buy off the shelf if you are talking about heavy infrastructure, has the ability to run IPv6, so there is not that much investment necessary on that side. However, there will be training and local activities in how to use IPv6 and that is where the cost is. It is not very expensive, there are may people who have had to roll out IPv6 and they did it and it was not difficult or as terrible as they thought it would be," he said.