Migration to take place as IPv4 pool runs dry

Who is profiting and who isn't as the end of IPv4 addresses draws near?

A group of international experts predict the date that IPv4, the current pool of internet protocol addresses, will run out is 18 July 2011, while the transition to IPv6, the new address pool, is occurring in fits and starts in New Zealand. A special taskforce under the auspices of InternetNZ has been set up and is headed by Murray Milner.

The IPv4 pool uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices. IPv6 uses 128-bit address and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices.

Computerworld journalist Stephen Bell attended a recent meeting of the taskforce to find out more about the transition to this new internet address.

Help for those who want it

The IPv6 Taskforce is adopting a triage approach to helping local organisations adopt the new internet protocol. According to taskforce head Murray Milner only those who want help will receive it, while those “in denial” will be relegated to the back of the queue.

The predicted date for exhaustion of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) address pool, on a projection of current rates of use is July 18 next year, with Regional Internet Registry (RIR) pools running out around March 2012.

“There will be those who are right up and running already today and there are those that say they don’t want to know; they are still in the denial phase,” he told the special Taskforce meeting held recently in Wellington.

“We need to classify people and prioritise where we are going to put our effort. It is no use putting your effort into someone that’s in denial; you may as well put your effort into someone that really wants to make something happen.”

Taking the emphasis off the laggards could be storing up trouble for the future, Milner acknowledges; “but we hope that by a little bit of cajoling and encouragement and advocating the success when people have adopted IPv6, and the ease with which they have actually managed to do it, that we will drag some of the laggards through the gate.”

A crucial lever on the business front is to appeal to companies’ sense of competition, says taskforce technical specialist Dean Pemberton. If they’re aware that some of their competitors are moving and may be getting an advantage from IPv6 they will feel more encouraged to shift, he says. So one taskforce strategy will be to single out a prominent early adopter in each industry sector and make their IPv6 achievement visible to their business rivals.

The predicted date for exhaustion of the IANA address pool, is not an ironclad date like Y2K; nothing is suddenly going to happen, Pemberton emphasises. “The date at which you’ll feel this will be different for everyone. But it will certainly signal a sea change.”

The basic mechanics of moving across to IPv6 are as straightforward as changing from one brand of network equipment to another, Pemberton says; as seasoned network engineers are well used to adapting to different vocabularies. But attention is still needed to some security fishhooks.

IPv4 address, reselling, rental to rise

As the number of old-style IPv4 internet addresses available through official channels run out, Pemberton says some organisations are offering unused addresses for sale on eBay and through spam-like emails.

This could have consequences for security, making it hard to trace culprits and hold them to account for spamming and other offences, he says.

He suggests that some organisations are apparently acquiring or merging with others for the sake of the target’s IPv4 address holdings.

When Pemberton was speaking about address sales, a member of the audience suggested “companies will be bought for their address space.

“That is already happening,” claims Pemberton. “I was speaking to some of the Regional Internet Registry [RIR] guys and they were saying they are already seeing mergers and acquisitions based on IP space.”

He can vouch first-hand for the sale and purchase of IPv4 addresses, having himself received an email offering such trades. “Normally I would have written this off as spam,” he said, “but it comes through with enough content information to look legit. So this is happening; people are buying address space.”

Pemberton sees address rental at a rate of about $1 per hour as a distinct possibility. This is a logical expedient for organisations with an irregular workload, who will need more addresses during the working day or, in the case of a home-based internet service provider, in the evening.

The official way to get addresses is from the IANA, which parcels out blocks of address space to the RIRs, whom oversee large regions such as Asia-Pacific. The RIRs pass them on to organisations and ISPs, who in turn allocate them to staff or customers.

This process is carefully tracked, allowing “whois” databases (that is, databases that tell you who owns which IP address) to be maintained, telling anyone interested who currently owns a certain address. Black-market sales compromise this process, Pemberton believes.

The structure of the RIRs and their relationship to IANA also allows democratic influence on policy and this too will be compromised by sales through other routes, he claims. Owners of unused address space will split it into small blocks for on-selling. He believes the address space will consequently become fragmented and routing tables will become large and complex.

The rate of erosion of officially allocated addresses slowed temporarily in 2008 to 2009 with the impact of the economic slowdown, but the appearance of a levelling off of the decline was exaggerated by RIRs, Pemberton claims, using up some of the reserve already allocated to them, but not yet passed on. Now that reserve is running out and the visible decline has resumed, he says.

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Tags technologyipv4murray milnerinternetnzipv6

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