Do you care that the internet’s running out of addresses?
Most of us are happy to use the internet without considering what’s going on behind the scenes. We rarely give a thought to anything as geeky as IP addresses – but perhaps we will now that they’re running out.
That’s right – the net is fast running out of IP addresses, the unique sets of numbers which identify every device connected to the internet.
It’s happening in a similar way to UK telephone numbers running out in the late 1990s, culminating in The Big Number Change where dialling codes changed in many areas, and eight-digit local numbers became the norm.
Except that internet addresses are more complex than phone numbers, and demand is expanding at a far greater rate. The principle is the same: time is running out.
Stocks are running out fast
So why is there an issue? Simply put, no one could have predicted when the internet was born just how big it would grow. Back in the 1970s the net was built upon the foundations of version four of the Internet Protocol (IPv4) which has a maximum capacity of about 4.3 billion addresses. Fast forward 40 years, and it turns out that’s just not enough!
Central to everything is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which has overall control of the net addresses in circulation. It can release addresses in blocks of about 16 million, called a “/8”. Today there are just six of these /8s left, five of which will be split between the regional agencies that hand out net addresses soon.
Some are warning that stocks could run out by September 2011, so rationing is already in place. Mirroring the physical world, where shortages are exacerbated by stockpiling and panic-buying, demand for Europe’s last remaining block /8 could increase when stocks get closer to running out.
New, improved internet protocol
Thankfully there’s a solution: the shiny new IPv6! Knowing what we now do about the world’s insatiable demand to be connected to the internet, the address capacity has been increased to the rather awesome total of 340 undecillion (that’s a billion billion billion billion) unique addresses. Panic over.
But the solution is only the beginning. As IPv4 and IPv6 are largely incompatible, some sort of switchover has to take place. So, the mammoth task of switching the internet infrastructure and websites over to the new protocol will be starting soon.
Should we worry?
Will the end user notice? Possibly. Some of the biggest players – Google and Facebook, for example – have been readying their networks and services over the past few years. But other organisations haven’t been as quick to realise and address the implications of the switchover on their businesses.
As an internet user, are you concerned? The truth is, there’s no need to worry – the internet won’t collapse, although there could be temporary isolated slowdown or unavailability of certain websites and services.
And the nebulous entity that is the internet will take it all in its stride. There will doubtless be a few late nights for the people making the switchover happen, but the web should emerge better placed to deal with the future demands each of us will place on it.
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