It’s five to midnight: The Number Resource Organization (NRO) – the body responsible for coordinating the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) – recently announced that only 10% of the assignable IPv4 addresses are still available. Experts are warning of a battle for the last remaining IPv4 resources, reporting that seeing companies acquire one another for their IP addresses is no longer unthinkable.
Writing e-mails, reading the news, watching television programs on the Web, checking mail from your phone while on the go: These days, it’s hard to imagine everyday life without the Internet. A system originally developed for military purposes and intended only for the Pentagon and universities in the United States now connects 1.8 billion people all over the world. Google has already indexed over 20 billion Web sites.
Protocol for data transfer
Web sites like SAP.info and Google are based on communication protocols that are organized in layers and regulate data transfer, backup, and processing. The Internet Protocol (IP) is the foundation for data communications: It specifies the format and manner in which data is transported. In its most prevalent version IPv4, the protocol calls for addresses consisting of a series of digits between 1 and 255, separated into four blocks – 220.127.116.11, for example. On a local network, a router assigns each computer an IP address like this.
Vying for the last IP addresses
IPv4 provides over four billion IP addresses, but these have nearly been exhausted. In August 2009 alone, over 1.5 million Internet-ready video game consoles were sold in the U.S. The Internet service and cable television provider Comcast has over 20 million customers, but only 16 million IPv4 addresses.
The Internet has picked up speed and user behavior has changed along with it: Watching television shows or listening to the radio online is now completely normal. Today’s cell phones are designed to offer constant mobile Internet access. In the near future, many households will be able to control the temperature of their living room from anywhere using an iPhone rather than by hand.
Next up: IPv6
IPv6 is to succeed IPv4 in the future distribution of IP addresses. Unlike its predecessor, IPv6 addresses consist of eight 16-bit blocks, resulting in a 128-bit address length. In addition, IPv6 addresses are made up not just of dots and digits, but letters and colons, as well. This makes a nearly inexhaustible number of addresses possible – 340 undecillion, or 3.4×1038 – and also addresses security and data transfer problems that arise in real-time applications such as Internet telephony, Web TV, and Web radio. Particularly for the Internet of Things, communication among devices through conventional networks and mobile Internet services is essential. Whether it’s an mp3 player, iPhone, or laptop, the goal is to give every device its own IP address.
However, autoconfigurability and a virtually limitless number of addresses are not the only advantages of IPv6. The new IP is also capable of multitasking: In routing, IPv6 distinguishes between time-critical data – in a videostream, for example – and non-real-time transfers, such as e-mails. This promises to enable smooth viewing of online television programs and other video content.
The German IPv6 Council, which includes SAP Research and the Hasso Plattner Institute as members, has made it its mission to advance the new Internet Protocol and represent the interests of billions of Internet users. Seeking to raise political awareness of the current problem and the potential economic consequences of exhausting all IPv4 addresses, the council introduced its concept for a “national IPv6 action plan” for Germany at the country’s IT summit in Stuttgart.
The transition from IPv4 to IPv6 could take one of various forms. The tunneling approach calls for an network layer between the two protocols. The dual stacking method, meanwhile, would support both IPv4 and IPv6: Both would run on the same host (or server), with the DNS returning IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
Outlook: IPv6 implementation slow, but inevitable
For some, the necessity of switching to IPv6 has still not hit home. Providers fearing high costs are wary of offering corresponding services. So far, few routers support IPv6 even though operating systems like Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 do. Google, meanwhile, is one of the few organizations still in the process of upgrading to the new IP standard. However, according to Christoph Meinel – chairman of the German IPv6 Council and director of the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany – the transition takes one afternoon at most.