The Internet’s Y2K Crisis

Virtual Reality

IPv4 Exhaustion

The Internet as we know it is forecasted to end in 2012 when the last of the IPv4 addresses are handed out.  The Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA), who is responsible for managing IP address assignments, has been concerned about the rate at which IPv4 addresses are being consumed ever since the world starting using email in the 1980s.  

Since an Internet address is currently just a 32 bit number, a maximum of 4,294,967,296 addresses can be used before the addresses simply run out.  In reality, however, the total number of addresses available for Internet use is much lower due to the practice of handing out address ranges.  Originally, Internet addresses were class-based (A, B, C) with differing sizes of ranges for each class (24, 16, or 8-bit sized chunks), meaning that the actual number of chunks available was considerably less. than the theorectical 2^32 number of addresses.

The introduction of NAT (Network Address Translation) and CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing) bought another 10 years of address life (which was has been consumed by the growth of the Web) and recently IANA and the global Regional Internet Registries (RIR) have aggressively pursued a policy of address reclamation and re-use to further extend the life of IPv4. As a result, the most accurate projection of IPv4 address extinction is shown below.

 IPv4 Address Extinction In Regional Registeries

When this date is reached, the Internet will no longer be able to grow.  Click here to see exactly how many days away this event is from today.

IPv6

The technical solution to this problem has been around for years in the form of IPv6 which uses a 128-bit address space. The size of this number is difficult to comprehend. For example, there are 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IPv6 addresses for every single IPv4 address.

Or, looking at it another way you could assign 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IPv6 addresses to every star in the known universe. Clearly address exhaustion with IPv6 is not a problem.

However for a variety of technical reasons, the interoperabilty of IPv4 and IPv6 is complex and in some cases very difficult. And despite almost two decates of research and experimentation, the best minds in the world have failed to figure out a seamless transition path. At best it seems that every system connected to an Internet backbone or access network will have to switch over to IPv6 at some point and, since this infeasible to happen overnight (more likely many years), this requires simultaneous mapping of IPv4 addresses that will still remain in use behind firewalls. 

Some solutions require the equivalent of having two addresses for everything (also infeasible).  For example, your favourite website would need a dual address for each of the IPv6-equipped and IPv4-equipped clients that visit it.  Imagine the overhead of assigning a second address to the 50 M+ Internet accessible websites!  The DNS (Domain Naming System) is of no help for this because of lack of widespread implementation of compatible mechanisms in thousands of currently deployed DNS servers.

Local networks will also have to be upgraded to IPv6 to assure a smoother transition.  That means that the cut-over to IPv6 will require a massive network investment over a small period of time (1 – 3 years).

Sounds like Y2K all over again doesn’t it?

Canada's Lack of Vision

Many countries (China, Japan, India, USA, France, Germany, UK, Norway, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, Australia) already have public IPv6 inter-networks in-service on either an experimental or production basis and are gearing up to interconnect them into a new IPv6 Internet.

Canada is notably absent in preparing for IPv6.  There is no official government policy on IPv6 adoption.  Worse yet, Canada’s leading communication research group, CANARIE (Canadian Advanced Network and Research for Industry and Education) is actually dragging its feet on pursuing IPv6.  CANARIE is a nonprofit corporation funded by IT and telecom vendors, research organizations and the federal government and the void created by the deadly combination of lack of public science policy and the collapse of Nortel is telling.

Our official national stance is to wait and see what the USA does!  This seems to be our national policy on just about everything these days.

In view of this, the recent proposal by a former Nortel executive to urge the Harper government to actually do something by investing in creating digital infrastructure jobs takes on new meaning. 

Why not invest the billions that we are about to otherwise spend on so-called “shovel ready” projects to actually prepare  Canada for the new Internet reality?

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. danvertising  •  Jul 29, 2009 @3:01 pm

    It’s a real pain-in-the-ass to have to register to post comments.

    When you told me about how your blog got significant interest from one of the major companies featured negatively in one of your posts, it got me thinking.

    Here’s another good example of pissed off customers using social media to put pressure on big companies to step up their game.

    http://danvertising.com/2009/07/29/the-power-of-social-media/

  2. renaud  •  Jul 29, 2009 @7:45 pm

    Agree that it takes a bit more work to register, but sadly it is a necessary evil that keeps out the blog spammers.

    This site’s policy is to approve all legitimate registrations.

    The Internet is a powerful force on the same historical scale as the printing press’ impact that effectively ended the middle ages. All the more reason to be aware of the impending IPv4 address exhaustion!

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