The Essentials: Air, Water, Food and … IPv4 Addresses

 Author(s): , Posted on June 5th, 2015

A few weeks ago, The Newsfactor Bu$iness Report published an article putting the US on notice that the last few IPv4 Internet addresses will be solemnly handed out within the next 100 days or so. This news is not unexpected. Even as the ink was drying on the 1981 IPv4 specification, it was recognized that the 4 billion or so addresses available would eventually be consumed… if this new-fangled thing called “The Internet“ ever took off. Well, here we are thirty-four years later. The Internet has indeed taken off and we will shortly run out of IPv4 addresses.

Anticipating the problem several years ago, the industry deployed stopgap technologies such as Network Address Translation (NAT) in 1994 to extend the life of IPv4. Without NAT, we could easily have run out of IPv4 addresses some years ago. However, solutions such as NAT have only delayed the inevitable.

Thus, in 1998, IPv6 was born, which gives us, not 4.3 billion addresses, but 340 trillion, trillion, TRILLION addresses. Hopefully, that will be enough. IPv6 does more than simply increase the number of internet addresses. The protocol includes features that increase security and privacy. For example, IPSec security is natively available between IPv6 hosts. The protocol also supports larger payloads than IPv4 packets, which can increase network efficiency.

Mobile devices especially benefit from IPv6. By nature, Mobile devices are, well… mobile and commonly switch between different networks. Mobile IPv6 allows mobiles to easily switch between different networks and receive roaming notifications regardless of their physical location.

On June 6, 2012, as reported by the Washington Post, global internet service providers and networking technology manufactures united to officially support IPv6 in their products and services. Yet, today, many businesses, large and small have not fully converted to support IPv6.

At some point in the future, the last IPv4 packets will be handled and the world will speak one language – the language of IPv6.

In the meantime, what is to be done?

Enterprises need help in deploying internal IPv6 networks. This involves assessments, planning, equipment upgrades, monitoring and support. During this transition time, enterprises must support both IPv4 and IPv6, especially on publicly facing content, so as to avoid any business service interruption.

Ironically, IPv6 may be creating some security problems for enterprises. Malware can take advantage of the fact that most devices now natively support IPv6 and enable the protocol by default. If the enterprise is not actively monitoring and managing IPv6 traffic, rogue software can direct these IPv6-enabled devices sitting behind your firewall to communicate to unfriendly servers sitting outside of your enterprise.

The demand for IPv6-related services may follow a curve similar to Y2K, with lots of panic and anxiety exuding from those who are among the last to migrate to an all IPv6 world.

Let’s get ready now!

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About the Author

Weston Morris leads the architecture for Unisys End User Services. He has more than 25 years of systems analysis, design, integration, and software development experience. Read all Posts





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