A recent news report caught my eye, piqued my interest and ignited a spark to find out more about running out of room on the internet. In an interview with the co-founder of Casaba Security (a team of security pioneers who research, develop and implement solutions to internet security problems), Sam Bucholtz told viewers that reports about how we are getting very close to running out of addresses for all the mobile devices we are now using is true. Between cell phones, Blackberries, iPads, iPods, laptop computers and the myriad of other devices we want to connect with the internet, there are only about 2% of the potential addresses under the current internet protocol still available.
Internet addresses are needed for all these devices to talk with one another and are based on a 32bit value which limits the total number of devices that can “talk” or be connected to the internet to 4 billion.
The internet protocol currently in use is the Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4 and plans are underway to migrate to a new protocol, Internet Protocol version 6.
According to Wikipedia, this first publicly used version (IPv4), provided the before mentioned addressing capability of about 4 billion addresses and was thought to be sufficient in the early design stages of the Internet. It has been the unexpected explosive growth and worldwide proliferation of networks that has led to the current situation. By the late 1980′s, it became apparent that methods had to be developed to conserve address space. In the early 1990s, even after a redesign of the addressing system, it became clear that this would not suffice to prevent IPv4 address exhaustion, and that further changes to the Internet infrastructure were needed.
Now plans are being developed and a great deal of infrastructure is already in place to move to a new internet protocol that expands the number of addresses by 4 times. This is Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and will greatly expand the number of devices supported. It is estimated that every person on earth could have multiple devices and never come close to using all available addresses.
The last blocks of free IPv4 addresses were assigned in February 2011, although many free addresses still remain in most assigned blocks and will continue to be allocated for some time. While IPv6 has been implemented on all major operating systems in use in commercial, business, and home consumer environments, IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4. As an example, when a new version of a computer program comes out, it will be able to use files developed in the older version. This is not possible with IPv4 and Ipv6. Ipv6 creates what amounts to a parallel, independent network. Exchanging traffic between the two networks requires special translator gateways. However, modern computer operating systems are capable of implementing dual-protocol software for transparent access to both networks
What needs to happen now as we run out of room on the internet is that the content about the new internet protocol needs to be communicated. To facilitate that, the Internet Society is supporting World IPv6 Day, an event organized by the Internet Society and several large content providers to test public IPv6 roll out. The main motivation for the event is to evaluate the real world effects of the IPv6. The event is also known as Test Drive Day and will be held on June 8, 2011.
Facebook, Google, Cisco, Verizon, Yahoo and Bing will be among some of the major organizations that will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour “test drive”. The goal of the Test Drive Day is to motivate organizations across the industry – Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and web companies – to prepare their services for IPv6 to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out.
Changing over to IPv6 could be expensive and complicated. A similar situation recently occurred with the transition to digital television. For years digital TV was available along with analog although with limited content. As interest and content grew, TV stations began simulcasting both analog and digital programming. People began buying digital TVs. The move to all digital required new TVs, converters, adapters, etc., and while it was expensive, the move has been made. This IPv6 Test Day will offer similar simultaneous broadcasting in both protocols.
It looks like we can expect a move over to the new protocols in the near future as we run out of room on the internet. A crisis does not appear imminent, but there are not sufficient internet addresses to support the expanding mobile communications we are now demanding.
The new protocols will eliminate the problem, but will likely present new challenges, costs and opportunities to running out of room on the internet. Stay tuned.
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