IPv4 supplies run increasingly low

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority has allocated some of the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses, meaning adoption of IPv6 by organisations and internet service providers (ISPs) has moved further into a critical stage.

Four blocks of IPv4 were allocated yesterday, with two going to RIPE NCC, which deals with Europe, Middle East, and parts of Central Asia. Two more blocks, or /8s, were allocated to ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for the US, Canada and the Caribbean.

There are now just seven blocks remaining to be allocated, with 19 blocks having been already allocated this year, and it appears possible that the remaining few may be used by the end of  2010.

It is thought that APNIC, the RIR responsible for Asia could apply for two more blocks in the near future, leaving five blocks or /8s.  Once the amount of blocks hits five, the remainder are handed out equally by the IANA to each of the five RIRs across the world, immediately, as the last stage of IPv4 deployment.

The Number Resource Organization (NRO) announced in October that APNIC, has been allocated two blocks of IPv4 address by the IANA, signalling the IPv4 pool dropping below five percent for the first time.

“It seems entirely possible that the remaining two blocks could go to APNIC before the year is out,” Axel Pawlik, director of RIPE NCC, told TechEye. “The area is seeing massive growth and it could be that the final two blocks are allocated by the end of the year.  However if this was to happen it would not mean that IPv4 addresses would immediately vanish, that would all depend on how quickly ISPs picked up the addresses which were allocated to the RIRs. 

“This could potentially mean that we have until the second half of next year before running out.”

Pawlik noted that since the first 256 blocks began to be allocated it was inevitable that, with the growth of the internet, there would come a time when the current system would need to be replaced.  Now, after years of various organisatons trying to persuade users to switch to IPv6 with ample time, it appears that the end is indeed nigh.

IP addresses are fundamental to the infrastructure of the internet and if organisations do not make the jump soon it is noted that the sustainable growth could be affected.  According to Pawlik a failure to adopt IPv6 could potentially mean that smaller business could be at risk, for example an online retailer’s site may not be recognised in the future if they remain on IPv4 while others are on IPv6.

There a number of ISPs who have taken up IPv6, though this is thought to be a minority at the moment. There are a number of problems facing the widespread adoption of IPv6 including the scarcity of equipment that functions with the new system, though will remedy itself once usage increases, while there is also a financial factor in making the switch.  However, as Pawlik notes the technology is the same so should not present problems.

A further problem is that, while the problem is known throughout the tech world, there is little coverage in the mainstream of the impending shortage. There is apparently a growing black market for the IPv4 addresses

“People need to realise that this is a major issue, it is like a train that is hurtling towards us, we need to make sure we resolve the situation as soon as possible,” warned Pawlik.