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The Internet as we knew it is just about full. Time for IPv6

February 11th, 2011 No comments

images_globeSo … is the Internet really full? Are you tired of hearing IT people continually threatening that it is full or will soon be and the world as we know it is going to change dramatically. OK, not exactly the Apocalypse or Y2K and in fact probably not even much to talk about unless you are an IT person.

TCP-IP, using Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is the current means for devices, computers, switches, phones, cars, fridges, to communicate with each other globally and locally. It operates much like phone numbers allow us to dial a number and connect one telephone to another anywhere in the world. Country code, area code, local prefix, phone number, all go from large area to specific location as you work your way down the number from left to right in a phone number. TCP-IP is similar.

So before we can say whether the Internet is indeed full, lets find out how big it is. For any of you who took statistics and algebra in school you may recall learning about permutations and combinations.
http://www.mathsisfun.com/combinatorics/combinations-permutations.html
and how many possible combinations of numbers or addresses can be had within a specific range or size of number. IPv4 is much the same as a phone number with 4 sets of numbers (called octets) that represent 8 bits or 256 possible values, although in most cases 0 and 255 are reserved. When you factor this out IPv4 by design has a maximum pool of 4 billion possible addresses.

the-big-mac-7At first glance, 4 billion would seem like a sizeable amount but just like a certain successful hamburger chain used to tout 4 billion served in the late 70’s, here today, that number represents how many hamburgers are served in a few months, maybe even a single month. Likewise, our IPv4 addresses seemed endless when the concept was rolled out in 1981. Indeed at the rate addresses were being handed out for devices in the early 80‘s we surely had a lifetime or more before we would run out.

Then the Personal computer and the World Wide Web arrived and the demand for addresses increased exponentially. By the end of the 90’s something had to be done as experts realized the end was coming in terms of assignable IP addresses. Consider phone numbers started out as 3 or 4 digit numbers in very local areas in the beginning. Now we have transitioned to 10 digit dialing in all major urban centers in North America. Now we are facing an unimaginable demand for IP addresses with the surge in mobile phones, gaming consoles, portable devices and everything under the sun including cars, TV’s and even our kitchen appliances. Factor in a growing global demand with countries like China and India getting connected at an alarming rate and it is surprising we have not exhausted IPv4 already.

dilbert-internet-full

Enter IPv6. http://www.global-ipv6.org/documents/terms_of_reference.pdf
which came about officially in 2004 although it had been in the works prior to 1995.

Whatever happened with IPv5? http://www.oreillynet.com/onlamp/blog/2003/06/what_ever_happened_to_ipv5.html
That is a discussion for the archives.

IPv6 takes us from 4 billion possible addresses up to 5×10^28 addresses for every person currently on planet earth. Lets just say there is a lot of zeros after that number. I read someone saying it is the equivalent of every blade of grass on the planet having an IP address. It’s not that we need that many addresses nor is this overkill. By design a portion of the IP address is used for routing information so it is an address and much more.

Lets dissect IPv6 in simple visual terms. What will it look like for example. In IPv4 the address is like xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx. The address is decimal notated like 192.168.100.212. Anyone who is not a computer ‘inclined’ may recall having a support person ask for your computer or internet IP address and subnet mask and gateway and so on when tracing some connection issue.  An IPv6 address is like xxxx.xxxx.xxxx.xxxx.xxxx.xxxx.xxxx.xxxx. IPv6 addresses are hexadecimal notated like FE80:4563:EEA4:1020:51D7: A100:1F0C:44DA so be prepared to spend a bit more time reciting all of those off to your tech person when they need your computer address information.

Regarding hexadecimal format. Decimal (Deci) means 10 or base 10 numbering so when we count the numbers go from 0 to 9 for each position. When you get to the 11 you increment the position on the left by one so 10 to 19, 20 to 29, 100 to 109, 110 to 119 and so on. Hexadecimal is base 16 numbering so it has 6 more values represented by letters A to F. A=10 through F=16. When you get to 17 the process repeats by incrementing the position to the left by one so 0 to F, 10 to 1F, 20 to 2F, F0 to FF, 100 to 10f, 110 to 11f,  and so on.

Matrix image

You pack a lot more into a hex number than decimal but for most of us with our decimal trained brains the hex numbers may as well be trying to interpret those green rainlike images of numbers falling down on the computers in the Matrix.

Simply put, whether it is IPv4 or IPv6, it represents an address, a number, and everybody and everything needs one. The challenge now is when are we going to start this thing called IVv6 officially and get past IPv4. Good question. It is a big task to change over all the switching equipment in the world and upgrade all the equipment to support IPv6. A monumental task actually. Good news is this has been happening for almost a decade and almost all equipment sold today supports IPv6. The big communication and Internet companies are already switching over. What we need to do now is start testing and using IPv6. For end users and the general public all of this is behind the scenes and fairly transparent to day to day things. Only the IT people will really have to work at this and step up to learn and implement IPv6. Communication companies and IT people who are reluctant to educate themselves, upgrade their equipment, and transition to IPv6 will be left behind as the world moves forward with our without them.

What’s next? The following news comes from the IPv6 online Journal. http://www.ipv6tf.org/

World IPv6 Day – June 8, 2011

Facebook, Google and Yahoo, websites with more than one billion combined visits each day, are joining major content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight Networks, and the Internet Society, for the first global-scale trial of the new Internet Protocol, IPv6.  On June 8, 2011, dubbed “World IPv6 Day,” participants will enable IPv6 on their main services for 24 hours.  This is a major milestone toward formally pushing IPv6 forward to the mainstream. SO if you have issues on this day, ask yourself this.  Is my IPv6 working ??!? Seriously, what does World IPv6 day mean to all the common folks out there other then media hype on the day. Will it work. How will we know if it is not working?  I cannot wait until June 8th for all the excitement and drama. Cynicism aside this is at least a visible step in the right direction.

Address Allocation Kicks Off IPv4 Endgame

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority has assigned two large blocks of IPv4 addresses to the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, activating a rule under which the agency will give out the last of its IPv4 addresses.

The rule states that when only five large blocks of IP addresses remain, one will be handed out to each of the world’s five regional Internet registries. With the latest allocation to APNIC, the number of remaining IP address blocks is down to five.

I have not discussed the format of how the IPv6 address is used to route information as it is quite different than IPv4 in that regard. That routing is a technical issue and for the most of us all we care is when we connect our computer to the Internet that it works J For those engineer or technical types who like to dissect and understand things at a deeper level there are many links to RFC and specs online like:

http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc2732.html

http://www.juniper.net/techpubs/software/erx/erx50x/swconfig-routing-vol1/html/ipv6-config5.html

http://www.tcpipguide.com/free/t_IPv6DatagramMainHeaderFormat.htm