As the dwindling number of IPv4 addresses starts to cause problems for organizations around the world, the time has come to roll out IPv6 on a larger scale and leave behind dead-end technologies that delay the inevitable, according to the chief of the regional Internet registry in the Asia-Pacific region.
The newer version of the Internet Protocol supports an almost inexhaustible number of addresses thanks to a 128-bit long address field. In comparison, Version 4 uses a 32-bit address field. Since every connected device on the Internet needs an IP address, there is increasing pressure to move to IPv6 as more noncomputer devices come online in the so-called Internet of Things.
"I don't think anyone at the moment is saying we are somehow going to avoid IPv6 and not use it at all," said Paul Wilson, general director at the Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC). "After many years of speculation as to when we'd really see true healthy growth, we're seeing it now."
Wilson spoke Wednesday during the ICANN 50 meeting in London, which was convened to help ICANN, among other things, prepare to take over running the world's central Domain Name System (DNS) servers from the U.S. government's National Telecommunications and Information Agency.
This year, worldwide usage of IPv6 has grown to about 3.5%, up from approximately 1% in the beginning of last year. The work to upgrade one of the most important building blocks of the Internet has been a long and arduous process. However, usage is starting to take off, in large part because it has to.
This month, Microsoft said it has been forced to start using its stock of foreign IPv4 addresses to keep its Azure cloud service afloat in the U.S. IP addresses are handed out on a regional basis, and Microsoft was running out of addresses in the U.S., so it had to use some that it had been given for use in other parts of the world.
Also this month, infrastructure as a service vendor Digital Ocean said its data center in Singapore now supports IPv6.
As regional Internet registries (RIR) such as APNIC start to run out of Version 4 addresses, the need to implement IPv6 has become more acute. An RIR's job is to manage distribute and register IP addresses within its region.
"The exhaustion is a staged thing; there was sort of a perception that we'd suddenly hit the bottom of the barrel and run out. But this was never a surprise," Wilson said.
But just because the RIRs know what they are doing, that doesn't mean everyone does. For example, carriers planning to rely CGN (Carrier Grade NAT) with IPv4 to put off the adoption IPv6 are betting on a dead-end technology and are delaying the inevitable, according to Wilson.
The CGN technology sits at the edge of a network and lets Internet service providers use their own addresses internally. That means they don't need as many public addresses -- and public addresses are what's running out. The drawbacks include increased cost and complexity and decreased network performance, according to Wilson. All three are related to the address translation done in home routers and operator networks, he said.
Remaining IPv4 addresses are now being rationed around the world. As part of this process, APNIC allows the buying and selling of addresses -- something that wasn't permitted in the past. That practice started in the Asia-Pacific region, but has been expanded via a deal with the American Registry for Internet Numbers, one of APNIC's fellow RIRs, to include North America. That's where unused or underused addresses are most likely to be found, Wilson said.
But the opening of this market isn't just about providing access to IPv4 addresses. It's more about increasing the motivation for moving to IPv6 in parts of the world where the lack of addresses is less acute or there is a perception that that's the case, according to Wilson.
"One thing we have learned about the IPv6 transition is that no one in this competitive environment really wants to think about it until they need to. But that said, the best chemistry for a successful transition is for everyone to be moving at once," Wilson said.
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