Friday, September 25, 2015

IPv4: North American Addresses Exhausted

[IPv4 and IPv6: The 4 Corners of the World,  courtesy Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis]

IPv4: North American Addresses Exhausted


The TCP/IP Internet was created around 1981, where each participant would get an address out of a total of around 4 Billion. This technical limitation used 32 bit addresses, during a time when people were using 8 bit computing. Internet usage is pervasive today, with items such as cell phones and light bulbs being attached, and it was just a matter of time before the pool of addresses were exhausted. Another benchmark was hit today.

Gwangju Illustration in South Korea

A simple way to view the The Internet is an Apartment Complex. Each building may be a different continent and each apartment has an address. When someone wants to live in that complex, there is limited number apartment numbers in each complex. In the beginning, anyone can live anywhere, rent is cheap, large blocks of apartments are available for friends to rent together, and life is good. As time goes on, space fills up, and you have to wait until someone leaves or dies to get an address. If the population is ever increasing, there is a problem... people start to double-up or triple-up in the apartment, all sharing a single address, but perhaps adding an "a" or a "b" to the end of the number.

[NAT illustration]

Mitigation Using the Illustration

When IP Addresses on The Internet started getting "tight", providers started to make devices share at each location they provided service to. While this sharing solution is not optimal, this is what happens every day when people multiple computers, televisions, tablets, etc. at their homes... the home gets a single IP Address on The Internet and all the devices share that address through a technology called Network Address Translation using an Internet Router/Firewall. This delayed the problem for many years, since tens of thousands of connections could share a single IP Address on the Internet, behind an Internet Gateway Router/Firewall running NAT.

Trouble with NAT: Mitigation is Not Solution

The problem is, not all devices connected on the Internet using NAT can talk directly to other devices using NAT without going through a system on The Internet using a real IP Address. Devices using NAT must communicate to a well known server in The Internet "cloud", so applications started to become more limited in their framework. Furthermore, identification of an end-point on The Internet becomes more difficult to track, so one really does not know who is behind the public IP address since it could be shared by dozens or thousands of devices, potentially anywhere in the world! When trying to manage devices on The Internet, it is always preferable to have a dedicated IP Address, for troubleshooting, otherwise a physical presence may be needed to investigate a problem. Some secure management protocols break with NAT, since the source or destination address are different from what they started as, so the packet must be modified along the way, which raises security concerns. For everyday people, NAT is a solution, but not without drawbacks. Public IP Addresses continue to be eaten away.

[Warning sign from Wikimedia]

The Warning:

In July of 2015, the American Registry for Internet Numbers ran out of larger blocks of addresses to provide. If you needed a presence on The Internet (i.e. Internet Service Provider, Web Hosting company, Banking Institution deploying ATM's, etc.) and had a large project, you could only get a small number of addresses in North & Central America.

[Empty bottles courtesy The Register]

Running Dry:

As of today in September 2015, North America has officially run out of addresses. North America was not the first region to run dry of IP Addresses, leaving large numbers of devices needing to participate on the Internet high-and-dry. Caribbean and Latin America ran out of addresses in 2014. Europe and the Middle East ran out of addresses in 2012. Asia-Pacific ran out of addresses in 2011. Only Africa still has addresses left, projected to be exhausted in 2019 at current rate of consumption.

[Structure of IPv4 and IPv6 Packets]

The Solution:

In a world where computers, and even cell phones, are 64 bit - using a 32 bit number to define addresses for communication over The Internet is antiquated. This original address size was part of the Internet Protocol, version 4 (IPv4) definition. Over a decade ago, a newer address format was created, called IPv6. Movement to IPv6 is the ultimate solution. There are enough addresses in the 64 number for a very long time. Various governments in Asia such as Hong Kong and Japan, being the first to run out, already started the push to IPv6. Providers in Europe, like British Telecom, started the push to IPv6. Internet Service Providers, like Comcast, are deploying under IPv6 in the United States.

The Conclusion:

As providers move to IPv6, this delays the fate of companies bound to IPv4, since they may receive recycled addresses or can purchase formerly assigned addresses from providers who already moved infrastructure to IPv6. Solution providers moving to IPv6 will gain the benefit of peer-to-peer communication over the Internet, for their applications, while legacy IPv4 solution providers will incur greater costs with having to go through a central bottleneck in The Internet "cloud". If there is ever a point in time where innovation and crisis meets - this is that opportunity, don't miss it!

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