The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

Summary: Or, to be more exact, the Internet running out of IPv4 addresses. Like it or lump it, we're all going to need to switch to IPv6.

TOPICS: Networking, Browser

Running out of gas.

If you listen to some people, businesses don't need to worry about the growing shortage of Internet IPv4 addresses. Instead, most "network owners find it more affordable to just make do with the [Internet] addressing scheme they're already using. This is so, so wrong.

When the Internet began, IPv4's possible 32-bit 4.3 billion addresses looked like more than enough. Things have changed.

We're running out of IPv4 addresses, the 32-bit numeric addresses that network devices need to connect to the Internet. All those mobile devices that we love so much like iPhones, tablets, and iPods are gobbling down IPv4 addresses like an elephant does peanuts. For the longest time, we managed to avoid running out of IPv4 addresses with the use of technologies like Network Address Translation (NAT) and Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR), but those haven't been enough.

According to the Number Resource Organization (NRO), the group that oversees the allocation of all Internet number resources, announced in January 2010 that less than 10% of available IPv4 addresses remain unallocated. As Axel Pawlik, chairman of the NRO, said in a statement, "It is vital that the Internet community take considered and determined action to ensure the global adoption of IPv6. The limited IPv4 addresses will not allow us enough resources to achieve the ambitions we all hold for global Internet access."

You don't have to believe Pawlik though. You can watch the IPv4 addresses go down the virtual drain for yourself at the IPv4 Address Report. When I last checked it, on September 8th, we were down to 5% left of all IPv4 addresses.

Administratively, here's how it works. Internet IP addresses are allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which in turn is run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). IANA distributes IP addresses to regional Internet registry (RIRs) who issue these addresses to ISPs and from the ISPs to you.

What's going to happen next, at the current rate, is that IANA will run out of numbers to give the RIRs on May 26th 2011. After that, the RIRs will give some lucky user the last IPv4 Internet address on or about January 25th 2012.

Then, things get interesting. If you're smart and your IT department is well-funded, you'll have switched to IPv6 by then. Human nature being what it is I don't expect that to happen.

Instead, we'll see a confusing mess of Internet address markets. These will probably look something like the one that now exists for valuable domain names, but I'll talk more about that, and what's involved in switching over to IPv6 in future blogs. Eventually, you see, we will all have to switch over to IPv6, but the process will take years and it isn't going to be easy, simple, or pretty.

Brace yourself network administrators, CTOs, and CIOs, we're in for a heck of a ride.

Topics: Networking, Browser

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  • Geezus...

    The internet's been running out of addresses for over 10 years now - you'd think it would be dead by now:

    Just one of many articles from waaaaay back:

    What a shame - ipv6 wasn't supported in Windows 2000. THAT must be why it was never widely adopted that year!
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

      @daftkey The following things helped make IPv4 last longer:

      -NAT. By allowing people to essentially hide their networks behind a single IP address, that allowed more machines to use less IP addresses.

      -Taking back huge chunks of unused IP addresses. Many early adopters bought the huge class A chunks of the address space which they barely used, and many of them gave it back.

      -The move to CIDR, which allows more granular control over how many IP addresses you can own. The class based system turned out to be very wasteful, as moving up in a class gave you a whopping 256 times more IP addresses, even if you never used them. Now it's more like 2x with CIDR.

      Indeed, these three changes to IPv4 gave it a much longer life than originally thought. [b]However:[/b] They only pushed the problem back further, they did not completely solve it. Ultimately, IPv6 is the real solution to the problem.
      • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

        @CobraA1 Good response. You've touched on why IPv4 has had more life (few understand why), but the time of reckoning is now at hand.
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

      I have been reading the same or similar story a few times for the pass few years, and ipv6 has been implemented since Windows XP if not mistaken, every time i read the story I thought I'll see the change very soon but it never happen, but anyway will it effect us as consumer? I don't think so.
  • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

    January 25th 2012

    Are you saying the Aztecs are right?
    It's the end of the world as we know it.

    I'm no tech geek - I'm a self employed structural engineer who uses uses a web hosting service and ZD Net for IT advice.

    So I have an IPv4 address and there will be a switch to IPv6 - What does that mean for me as a consumer?

    Are you saying the to protocols aren't compatable? Wouldn't my hosting company come up with a plan to switch current clients to the new protocol as it becomes necessary.

    There must be some kind of remedy out there in the works - let's face it, there are more of me (relatively clueless users) than there are geeks. No one is going to rely on us to have our act together.

    We survived January 1, 2000. The world did not end and I still had work to do on the 2nd.
    Lila M
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

      @Lila M

      "What does that mean for me as a consumer?"

      Almost nothing. IPv4 isn't going to stop working, and you'll likely retain your IPv4 address long after we hit the limit.

      What it will affect, however, is new machines.

      If a business expands, any new machines that need their own IP address will only be getting an IPv6 address.

      If you buy a new cell phone with internet access, it will likely get only an IPv6 address.

      If you move into a new neighborhood, you will likely get only an IPv6 address.

      People who are already on IPv4 will likely retain their IPv4 address, so it won't affect most people.

      Windows is already compatible with IPv6 in all major versions, so it won't be an issue for most people.

      The one edge case that may affect Windows applications is when you're using only IPv6 and you try and use a legacy application that only uses IPv4 addresses. However, even then address translation can be used to provide dummy IPv4 addresses to applications that can't use IPv6.

      So from the point of view of the consumer, almost nothing is going to happen. Pretty much everything is happening under the hood, so to speak.
    • Actually it was the Mayans.

      And the only reason that things went as smoothly as they did for y2k was that bunches of programmers and other techs put bunches of hours into making sure that it would. This is like having your car engine rebuilt then marveling that it didn't blow up after the rebuild so you probably didn't need to rebuild it afterall.
  • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

    I wish more companies would make the move to IPv6. Just get it over and done with. More addresses for everyone, perhaps it will create cheaper static IP addresses from the ISPs.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

      @Loverock Davidson

      The reason that they haven't moved to that is because a lot of older routers (especially home based) don't like IPv4 and cannot support it.
  • Issue every citizen their own IPv6 address

    The possibilities would be endless for this....
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

      Hmmmmm...wouldnt' the FBI, CIA, NSA, RIAA and other untold numbers of "initialized entities" just love that! Tie it implanted RFID chips w/GPS..."Big Brother"!!
      • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

        Not to mention Google. They probably have more info on more people than all those agencies put together!!!
  • Time for the big guns to fork out unused addresses

    Think of all the tier 1 providers using a boatload of Class A IPs, you would think that they could start using NAT themselves and dump the recovered IPs to be used by others...
    But no, they hold on to them for their inherent increasing value. Bad case of capitalisme at work.
  • IPv4 Waste

    There is so much waste in the IPv4 space to begin with. Many respondents touched on all the unused class A (or B for that matter) space. That's certainly one way to conserve address space.

    So many DSL and a few Cable internet providers chose an address space wasting deployment strategy. It ticks me off every time I have to configure a customer. I've even run across small local/regional DSL providers who are doing this.

    Even if a customer wants a single static IP, you end up with two IPs because one goes to the cable or DSL modem and one goes to your router. Even if you don't plan on using the CABLE/DSL modem as a router. That's what they provide, and they require you to use theirs.
    Sure, it's just a little /30 (For your CIDR people), but that second IP is not usable to you, and of course then you have a Network and a Broadcast address, and essentially you have wasted 3 out of 4 ip's. (Network - Wasted, Cable Modem- Wasted, Usable IP, Broadcast - Wasted)

    All of those modems end up talking to a common gateway anyway upstream on the provider network. So why not cut out the middle man and have more common gateways. You're not likely to have much broadcast traffic at that level of the network anyway. Make it a /24 or a smaller supernet, with a common gateway. Then route subnets to them if they need a block of IP's, or they use that single IP if they only need one.

    Even if the two large cable companies who operated like this only changed 1 million customers each, that's now 2 million customers. Those 2 million customers have 2 million usable IP's, but waste 6 million (for the most part.. again once you factor in network, broadcast, and the cable modem).
    Once you factor the redesigned networks, you will still have broadcast and networks, but you will have 1/3 of the wasted address space. Even if you could reclaim and reuse 4 million of those 6 million wasted addresses. Those providers would have no need to request additional address space for a long time.
  • re: Last couple posts

    I understand IPv4 is still being used wastefully in many cases - however, IMO the ultimate fix is still to use IPv6. Fixing current wastefulness of IPv4 will only delay the problem a bit longer, not fix it.

    Besides, IPv6 also includes some new features that will make things easier, more secure, and more efficient. Theoretically this means less headaches for network admins and smoother internet for everybody.
  • OK.....

    So the sky is falling....what else is new?
  • IPv6

    Increasing complexity requires increasing the entropy rate. We have become unable to increase it. This is why the complexity is reducing itself through collapse. It is very unlikely that the IPv6 transition will be completed. It's not a "recession"
    • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas


      "Increasing complexity requires increasing the entropy rate."

      Uhh, we're not talking about entropy issues here. I don't think your metaphor matches the situation.

      "It is very unlikely that the IPv6 transition will be completed."

      That is basically a decision in the hands of IANA. We don't really need every private network to switch to IPv6 - we only need the ranges assigned by IANA to switch over.
  • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

    I agree with most parts of these comments and would like to say as a consumer, from a personal home view, IPv4 won't affect me at all. All the computers at my home including my phone all point to a gateway provided by my ISP. If anything will change, it will be my ISP, not me. Even if I worked in a corporate office, with thousands of users, the ISP would provide the main IP, and everything under would be a subnet of a common IP subnet of a class 'C', ie: 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x. So running out of IP's seems a little out of the question. I can only figure, as it's been noted in many responses, the big companies are wasting huge blocks of IP addresses. Though the solution would be to go to an IPv6 platform, I still think there's still plenty of IPv4 to go around for years to come.
  • RE: The Internet is running out of IPv4 gas

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