IPv4 addresses running out -- really

IPv4 addresses running out -- really

Decade-old predictions about the eventual depletion of IPv4 addresses may soon be coming true.

The United States will run out of Internet addresses based on Internet Protocol version 4 by the summer, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

“The shortage puts companies that maintain their own large and growing Internet presence at the biggest risk, especially providers of cloud-computing services. Such companies could find themselves saddled with unexpected costs, technical problems or simply an inability to serve new customers. Those that aren’t building out their own data centers won’t face the shortage directly, but their online providers likely will,” the WSJ wrote.

This exhaustion of IPv4 addresses is arriving at a faster rate than predicted. In 2013, Owen DeLong, director of professional services at Hurricane Electric, a global Internet services provider, predicted IPv4 becoming unsustainable in 2017 or 2018. At the time IPv6 packets accounted for less than 2 percent of all Internet traffic. 

Every device connected to the Internet has a unique, numerical IP address, which provides the identification and location information devices needed to send data to each other. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses to provide approximately 4.3 billion addresses. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address, for 340 undecillion (that’s 340 trillion, trillion, trillion) Internet addresses.

But with the explosion of mobile devices and the ramp-up to the Internet of things, where every sensor and device has an IP address, 4.3 billion isn’t nearly enough.

While IPv4’s sustainability is nearing an end, switchover progress has been slow. The reason: software and routers must be changed to support the new standard, costing time and money. Research firm Gartner says a companywide migration costs about 7 percent of the company’s annual IT budget, reported the WSJ.

Even so, global IPv6 traffic has grown more than 500 percent from mid-2014 since its launch in mid-2012, according to World IPv6 Launch. And Google reports that IPv6 adoption is currently 16.15 percent in the United States, with Belgium the world leader in IPv6 adoption at 33.75 percent.

In the United States, the federal government is ahead of the adoption curve, perhaps because of a 2005 Office of Management and Budget memo that required federal IT procurements to include IPv6 capabilities where possible. A May 28 test of 1,205 federal website domains by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, found that 41 percent were fully operational using IPv6, while another 40 percent had the conversion in progress.  NIST's survey of 1,070 industry sites, on the other hand, found just one percent fully operational, and 58 percent with no progress at all toward IPv6.   

But not every federal agency is progressing at the same pace.  NIST's tests show that the Department of Interior has migrated 81 of 83 domains, for example, while the Department of Agriculture has completed the switch for just two of 51 domains.

According to a December 2014 report from the Defense Department’s inspector general that was recently made public, an adoption lag “could increase DOD's costs and its vulnerability to adversaries." DOD is losing the benefits of IPv6, including embedded IP security, mobility and the ability to create dynamic IP addresses for devices such as sensors, smart munitions, weapons systems and plug-and-play networks, all of which offer a technological advantage to IT-equipped forces on the battlefield, wrote FCW. Some of the issues with migration include lack of a coordinated effort for an enterprisewide switchover and the need to transition IPv4-compatible gear and applications to the new standard.

Nevertheless, analysts are urging organizations to transition  to IPv6 as soon as possible. When will the switchover be complete? “That could easily take years and quite possibly decades," a recent ComputerWorld article predicted, "as the last holdouts for v4 will likely be stubborn and fairly numerous.”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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