IPv4 – Is the sky falling?
There are folks who have, in the past, cried wolf with regard to IPv4 free pool depletion and the need for IPv6 adoption. Different people had different reasons for doing so and some were likely ulterior. Since then, all of the reputable folks focusing on IPv6 deployment have removed these alarmists and distanced themselves from them, but damage was done.
Even now, 10 plus years later, I have folks say “oh yeah, we’ve heard that before” when I speak to them about IPv4 free pool exhaustion and the need for IPv6 adoption. The sad part is that those early alarmists were only half wrong; IPv4 still had a lot of life in it, due to subnetting via Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) and Network Address Translation (NAT), but IPv6 deployment should have been a priority, even then (perhaps especially then).
Because all of those early warnings were mostly ignored, we are now in a situation where all IPv4 addresses will be in use (no new addresses available) before full and true IPv6 parity exists. When you start to dig into this problem, you find a lot of finger pointing and, even today, a bit of denial.
Finger pointing and denial
Many organizations have come up with excuses when it comes to IPv6 implementation and deployment. Equipment vendors and service providers say that there hasn’t been any customer demand yet. ISPs further say that there isn’t any/enough content available. Content providers say that there isn’t any/enough IPv6 available from ISPs. ISPs in turn say that their equipment can’t support IPv6. It’s a room full of fingers pointing in every direction except towards their owners.
Those not pointing fingers are often in denial. “That doesn’t affect me” and “we’ll never actually have to deploy IPv6” are common sentiments among this crowd.
What all of this boils down to is a single underlying theme: “It costs money to implement/deploy and I can’t charge extra for it.” While mostly true, this is very short sighted and really misses the point. When we are out of new IPv4 addresses, how will we grow the Internet? How will you sell products and services that require network connectivity when the addresses required to access that network are no longer available?
The answer of course is to shift to IPv6. The easiest way to do this would be before we run out of free IPv4 addresses, but that ship has pretty much sailed.
Luckily, it appears that the worst of this circular finger pointing and denial is behind us.
ARIN has been conducting outreach regarding IPv4 free pool depletion and IPv6 transition, at the request of the community, for about three years now. I recently joined ARIN staff, other ARIN AC members and a couple motivated community members at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to help conduct such outreach. What I found there was pleasantly surprising, if not altogether reassuring.
My primary reason for being at CES this year was to walk the show and talk to vendors, service providers and anyone else who would listen, about IPv4 depletion and IPv6 deployment. While there were still some folks in denial mode, many companies and individuals were very aware of the impending exhaustion of free IPv4 addresses and the need to deploy IPv6, now.
I found a much larger number of vendors than I expected who either had already implemented IPv6 or at least had it on their road-map for this year. From small to large, old to new, a substantial number of equipment vendors and service providers have started to deploy IPv6. Finally!
Consumers have started to take notice as well. While handing out information and stickers at the ARIN booth I had several folks approach me saying, “I read about this recently, tell me more” and “I have been following the IPocalypse hashtag on twitter! How much time do we have?”
Not there yet
While it was refreshing to speak with folks who already understood the challenges that we face, the most interesting conversations I had last week at CES were with the folks who were either ignorant of our current situation or in denial about it.
For those that were ignorant, many just didn’t understand how the Internet works and that is of course a favorite topic of mine. Almost all were happy to learn about the numbers behind domain names and the regional Internet registry (RIR) system. They were concerned about the depletion of available IPv4 addresses and eager to go ask their own employers, vendors and service providers for IPv6 access and support.
The folks still in denial were even more fun. While their arguments varied, the look in their eyes when realization struck was always the same. And it felt good to see it. “Oh, wow, we DO need to look into this.” Music to my ears.
The good news is that ARIN’s outreach program is working, and working very well. The bad news is that it is needed.
I walked thousands of booths over the four days of CES and spoke to hundreds of people. Of all those conversations, more than half of the vendors I spoke with (who had an IP-aware product) either already have IPv6 support today or will have it implemented this year. That would be great if this were two years ago. With the IANA IPv4 free-pool depleting this quarter and ARIN free-pool depletion virtually guaranteed within 2011, those that have not already begun introducing support for IPv6 are certainly behind the eight ball. What may be less evident is that many who have started deploying IPv6 are actually lagging as well. Some vendors have made great strides in some products or product lines but not in others. Others have IPv6 on the road-map still, which means no real world experience.
The overall picture that I walked away from CES with is that while we are better off than I expected (much of it thanks to ARIN’s diligent outreach efforts), we are still in for some serious growing pains as we are forced to shift from IPv4 to IPv6 dominance. I can only imagine the problems we will face in the next couple of years but it is certainly clear that problems will be had.
It kind of makes you wonder what might have happened if folks had heeded those earlier cries for IPv6 adoption…