One of the longest running dramas in telecom and IT is the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.
In their wildest dreams, the pioneers of the Internet had no way to foresee the amazing success of their creation. For that reason, the addressing scheme that they implemented, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) was limited, in relative terms. That understandable miscalculation has been a known problem since the Internet gained momentum. The drastic expansion brought by mobility and the expected explosion caused by the Internet of Things (IoT) means that a huge amount of new addresses are needed.
Enter Internet Protocol version 6. IPv6 extends the address “space” by increasing the number of bits used from 32 to 128. This enlarges the potential address pool to the degree that there are no limitations. We will never run out of IPv6 addresses.
But, the transition is a long one. IP addresses are administered by The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is owned by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit American company which, for now, is overseen by the U.S. government. IANA provides IP addresses to regional registries.
In May, the Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which oversees the registry for North America, said that the bottom of the IPv4 barrel will be reached this summer (they didn’t say it quite that way, but that’s the gist of it). At that point, new IPv4 numbers will only be available on the secondary market.
There are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about the transition from “v4” to “v6.”
The first is that it is a gradual process, both in terms of the deeply engrained nature of IPv4 and the fact that IPv4 addresses will not become completely unavailable at any given point in time. There always will be a secondary market. There also will be no point at which IPv4 doesn’t work. It will be increasingly cumbersome and won’t offer all the features available in IPv6.
The bottom line is that IPv6 is vital, but there is no flash cut between it and the earlier version. The two will coexist for decades.
The federal government is front and center in the ramp up to IPv6. Indeed, it has been tasked with leading the charge, at least in the United States. The idea was to set an example for non-governmental organizations in terms of proactively upgrading public-facing servers to “v6” status and creating the hybrid infrastructure that efficiently supports both addressing schemes.
In May, nextgov.com posted a story that said the federal IT dashboard reported that federal agencies and departments have moved to IPv6 for 54.92 percent of their public domains. The interesting thing is that the range is great: For instance, about 4 percent of domains controlled by the Department of Agriculture have made the move, while complete compliance was found at NASA and the Social Security Administration. The story refers to memos from The Office of Management and Budget in 2005 and 2012 that, respectively, required federal IT procurements to include IPv6 where possible and to set adoption milestones.
The federal government has not been immune to the lethargy of the move to IPv6 as a whole. FedTech offers figures on the number of servers that have transitioned to IPv6. The progress seems to be about half. John Curran, the president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet, is quoted as saying that the government has been in the vanguard of adoption, but the sense is that the feds can be more aggressive.
Finally, after years of talk, the crossover point at which IPv4 will be passed by IPv6 is here. All indications are that the federal government will continue its important and leading role.
Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecommunications writer. His work most often posts at IT Business Edge and Broadband Technology Report. He also runs a music website, The Daily Music Break. More information can be found at Weinschenk Editorial Services. He is on Facebook and Twitter.