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ARIN CEO reminds: be prepared for Internet numbering expansion

The impending changeover from IP version 4 to IP version 6 may result in configuration issues and slower performance for some online applications.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The impending changeover from IP version 4 to IP version 6 won't really be a big deal, and most people won't even notice it as it happens. But the Internet will be running on both protocols for a while, and the head of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) cautions that some online applications may run slow as a result. Online content providers need to start preparing as well.

In a recent interview, John Curran, president and CEO of ARIN, explained why businesses need to sit up and take notice of the impending shift that is taking place as we move from Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to the more expansive IP version 6.

What’s happening is the original Internet numbering system — which assigns addresses such as — is running out of numbers. IPv4 is a 32-bit system with four billion possible combinations. “That sounds like a lot of numbers, but it really isn’t when you think about the size of the globe and the number of devices being connected these days,” Curran says.  In fact, we’re due to run out of numbers within 700 days, he warns. IPv6, with 128-bit addressing space, enables “numbering of all of the molecules in the galaxy,” he says.

As soon as the last IPv4 number is used up, every new device or site that comes along after that uses IPv6. Don’t loose too much sleep over your systems, however. Industry planners have been aware of this matter since the 1990s. Most hardware and software has been ready for IPv6 for some time.

However, Curran advises businesses to check their configurations before the changeover takes place, as glitches may come up. “We can’t actually get an IPv6 host and an IPv4 server to talk to each other, because the IPv4 server only knows 32 bits. It’s much like if your telephone was set up to only ever dial seven digits, and it wouldn’t let you dial 10. Sure you could almost have a conversation, but you couldn’t call most of the world.”

When the changeover occurs, “ISPs are going to have to start using IPv6 to connect customers,” he explains. “Then, they’re going to have to put IPv6 gateways in, boxes that work like network address boxes, to translate IPv6-connected customers to the IPv4 websites on the Internet. That will work, but that’s going to be suboptimal, because those are gateways doing the translation.” This may slow down online applications such as Skype, Voice over IP, real-time video games, which “won’t necessarily run smoothly going through those translators.”

Curran points out that the Internet will be running on two protocols for some time. “If you really want to start a business that’s Internet based, you’re going to want to take your equipment, and make it connected by both IPv4 and IPv6.”

Some businesses have more of a challenge ahead of them than others, Curran continues. While the major ISPs have been underway with IPv6, “the content providers are just beginning to work on this,” Curran says. “And that’s going to take a lot of work, and they need to enable a lot of software that we think of as the Web 2.0 software infrastructure. While all the parts may run IPv6, that doesn’t mean your infrastructure is ready.”

Consider the two years remaining to address IPv6 configuration issues as an opportunity to get a jump on the competition, says Curran. “I would recommend that people start thinking about the fact that the IPv4 Internet has a fixed size, and the global Internet is going to keep growing. What this means that you don’t want to be left behind on the fixed-size network. You don’t want to be left behind on a fixed-sized network in an Internet ‘backwater.”

By the way, the interviewer, Howard Greenstein, said it's important to get this cautionary message out on ZDNet and other popular channels -- so there you go, Howard!

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