The infrastructure of the internet is set to undergo one of the most significant changes in its history as the capacity to host an ever-increasing number of internet protocol (IP) addresses moves closer to breaking point, according to a leading specialist in the area. Representing INEX, a neutral, industry-owned association that provides IP peering facilities for its members, Barry O’Donovan addressed an audience at Engineers Ireland HQ in Dublin to explain why companies need to be aware of the changes ahead. The event was hosted by Engineers Ireland's Computing Division.
O’Donovan is the managing director of Open Solutions, a consultancy company in the internet infrastructure space, and describes himself as an “internet infrastructure specialist.” During the presentation, he offered an interesting insight into the history of the internet and internet protocols, to explain how we have arrived at the situation we are in today.
With the world’s population set to grow by a further one billion to reach eight billion by 2025 – and with over one billion smart devices shipped in 2011 alone – the need for an increase in the number of IP addresses is becoming increasingly essential, according to O’Donovan.
As well as providing the audience with the reasons for making the switch from the current internet protocol (IPv4) to IPv6, O’Donovan offered an insight into the workings of the internet, detailing the nature of IP addresses and who controls the registration of such addresses.
IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is the global body responsible for allocating IP addresses. IANA delegates responsibility for the assignment of IP addresses to five regional internet registries (RIRs) across the globe. It is these RIRs, Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE) in the European region, who assign addresses to companies (local internet registries) such as Eircom and Vodafone in Ireland.
As O’Donovan explained, IANA ran out of IP addresses in February 2011, with all of its addresses allocated to the five RIRs. Since that date, two of the five regions have since run out, with the remaining three predicted to follow suit by the middle of 2015. This means that they are down to their last 16 million IP addresses.
“The disparity in running out poses a lot of questions in terms of IPv4 exhaustion because as some regions run out before others, the question is: how will they handle it and will the regions end up handling it differently? Will we end up with much different internets, using different technologies to bridge the v4 to v6 gap?” said O’Donovan.
IPv4 currently carries the vast majority of internet traffic using 32 bit addresses, which allows for 4.29 billion addresses. IPv6 uses 128 bit addresses, allowing for, incredibly, over 340 undecillion (1 followed by 36 zeros) addresses. O’Donovan went on to call on end-users to create the demand in order to influence internet service providers (ISPs) to make the switch sooner rather than later.