Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce LCA 2011: APNIC scientist warns of impending IPv4 doomsday

LCA 2011: APNIC scientist warns of impending IPv4 doomsday

Many who warn of an impending doomsday can be put into the chicken little class. Geoff Huston does not fit into that bracket.

Today, he brought a very real warning as his keynote to the 12th Australian national Linux conference in Brisbane: the IPv4 address space will be exhausted in a few weeks and there is no workable replacement in place.

Huston, chief scientist at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, is a jovial bloke and hardly looks like a doomsday prophet. But he backed his warning with data - in fact, more of it than needed - to convince even the most sceptical that there is no way out.

And beyond the exhaustion of the IPv4 address space, Huston also warned that it risked making the internet address lose its open character.

As soon as IPv4 addresses are exhausted, the cost of obtaining a real one - Australian ISPs always charge extra for a static IP - would rise and those who had addresses which were not advertised (about 20 percent of the total) could create a market in them, he pointed out.

Huston said that the use of TCP/IP had grown due to its openness. Growth, however, has been far beyond anyone's imagination; 189.6 million addresses were handed out in 2009 and 248.8 million in 2010.

And despite the theory that there would be a gradual migration to IPv6, this hasn't happened; only 0.3 percent of those on the net run IPv6.

"The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) will run out of addresses in February. And the first date for a regional internet registry to exhaust its addresses is July 2012," Huston said.

While in theory one could continue using IPv4 and network address translation (NAT) while transitioning to IPv6, in reality this would not happen, he said.

The enormous cost involved was the a big hurdle. Nobody really had the motivation to be the first to move - would the customers of an ISP bear an extra fee in order that their provider could make his or her setup fully IPv6 compatible?

The short answer was no, Huston said.

He pointed out that the magnitude of what had to be done to make a transition work was simply staggering.

Globally, one needed to deploy IPv6 for 1.8 billion users, more than a billion end hosts, upgrade hundreds of millions of routers, firewalls and middleware units, audit billions of lines of configuration code and filters and audit hundreds of millions of ancillary support systems in the next 200 days.

Carriers were being asked to bear the cost of transitioning to IPv6; these were businesses that had control of the entire market and then lost control. It was only natural that they would be reluctant to dip into their pockets to make the transition.

Additionally, those who benefitted from the openness of the past were increasingly ambivalent about open networks now; they were entrenched as incumbents with market positions to protect, Huston said.

In closing, he told his audience of geeks: "I leave the problem with you. You need to prevent a multi-billion dollar industry from falling flat on its arse."



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.