Is IPv6 A Solution In Search Of A Problem?

from the seems-like-it dept

A few weeks ago, David Siegel of Global Crossing looked at some high-profile websites and found that none of them have made the switch to IPv6, the supposed replacement for today’s 32-bit Internet addressing scheme. The IPv6 protocols have been finalized for a decade, and major operating systems have supported it for several years, so one would expect Internet-savvy companies like Google and Microsoft to have started running IPv6 versions of their sites. But it appears that so far, nothing of the sort has happened. Indeed, progress toward an IPv6-based Internet appears to be at a virtual standstill. The situation becomes less mysterious when one realizes that the primary rationale for the switch to IPv6 — the exhaustion of the IP address space — is basically bogus. It’s true that if Internet governance authorities continue handing out IP addresses, they’ll eventually run out. But the best solution to this isn’t necessarily a massively disruptive transition to a totally new addressing scheme. It may very well be a lot cheaper to continue working within the constraints of the existing address space. Technologies like NAT allow many users to share a single IP address. And Internet governance bodies can facilitate the creation of a robust market for unused IP addresses, so that those who need additional IP addresses can easily purchase them from someone who has more than they need. For example, Apple, Ford, General Electric, and several other Fortune 500 companies currently control blocks of 16 million IP addresses each. These companies should be given a straightforward way to auction off the unused portions of their blocks for the use of other Internet firms. There would be plenty of IP addresses to go around if firms had a financial incentive to give up unused addresses.

An interesting analogy here is to the continued health of the x86 architecture that now lies at the heart of virtually all desktop and notebook computers. For decades, people have been predicting that x86 was on its last legs because it is a clumsy, register-starved architectures. In the early 1990s, everyone expected RISC chips like the PowerPC and Alpha to clobber x86-based chips in performance. In the late 1990s, Intel itself bought into the hype and attempted to push the computer industry to its brand new Itanium architecture. Yet the predicted demise of x86 never happened. The x86 platform had extremely broad support in the industry, and it has turned out that the costs of limping along with a crappy architecture are smaller than the costs of switching to an entirely new one. I think something similar may be true of IPv4 addressing. As cramped as its address space may be, the costs of switching the entire Internet to a new addressing scheme will be enormous, and the benefits are far from obvious. So my prediction is that IPv6 will continue to be “just around the corner” for the foreseeable future, as the bulk of network owners find it more affordable to just make do with the addressing scheme they’re already using.

Filed Under:

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in...
Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Is IPv6 A Solution In Search Of A Problem?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Christopher Smith says:

There are two additional arguments strongly in favor of IPv6 that have convinced my client (an oilfield-services company with planned international expansion) to move to IPv6 across its operations network.

The first is the argument against NAT: It breaks end-to-end addressing. Not only is my client running into problems with interchanging equipment from different sites due to overlapping address spaces, there’s no simple way to talk to a particular device from the central office for troubleshooting or diagnostics (and back-direction connections like VoIP require annoying and expensive hacks). IPv6 solves both problems and incidentally provides an easy way to track equipment by MAC address (we’re using EUI-64 addresses).

Additionally, IPv6 helps reduce the size of the routing table. While in a scenario like my client’s aggregating routes is primarily useful for minimizing the usage of metered satellite or cellular network connections, the primary problem the Internet as a whole is facing isn’t that IPv4 address space is being exhausted–it’s that the global routing table is getting unmanageably large. Dividing the class A address assignments, while freeing up some space, would actually make the routing-table problem worse. IPv6, since it’s designed with aggregability as a primary virtue (and multihomes site instead of carving out tiny AS fiefdoms), helps keep routing complexity down.

(Also, of course, many areas in Asia and Europe are adopting IPv6 because of address exhaustion, but that’s another issue entirely.)

routerguy says:

IPV6 from a network operator perspective

The workaround of NAT is horribly expensive from a network management and configuration overhead point-of-view. The problem is that a significant amount of the work necessary to make v6 a reality needs to occur at the domain REGISTRAR level, with “glue” to support it as the change occurs and there’s no way for them to recoup this cost. At present, several of the largest registrars still do not support it, including godaddy, tucows, and network solutions. I believe that all of the major bandwidth provider players do indeed support v6 at this time.

Steve Florkey (profile) says:

Address Exhaustion

As I recall, the expected reason for IPv4 address exhaustion is almost everything in your house on the net so you can control it, so your electric utility can selectively shut down big loads without resorting to rolling blackouts, so your refrigerator can order more ice cream, … If my refrigerator, air conditioner, TV, water heater, home alarm all have externally accessible IP addresses, we’ll need something like IPv6 eventually.

That time is obviously not quite here yet, but it is hard to get people to buy stuff that will e-mail trouble reports your phone then respond to commands from that phone when the network is not ready to support a bazillion more addresses.

Duane M. Navarre says:

Re: fossil fuel problem

Some good news in regards to the fossil fuel problem.

They have found a way to grow algae in vertical
stacks thus making the light depth issue a non-issue,
and now have the growth rate at 100,000 gal/acre/yr.

Palm oil at like 700 gal/acre/yr is now cheaper than
middle east oil, so this blows that completely away.

We now know how to get by without middle east oil,
and Valcent has a working prototype, and can use
specific strains of algae to get the specific long
carbon chains for the specific fuel types.

Adios Islamic Oil…

Syn-Ack says:

While IPv6 was built to allow for many more addresses and it has been hyped as so, other key technologies in it such as QoS, larger packet payload, and security make it a much more robust and efficient protocol. Security and QoS needed to be stacked upon IPv4 such as IPSec which carries a 10-15% overhead over a regular packet. One of the key points as to why IPv6 isn’t being deployed commercially also has to do with the fact that ISP’s are using it for the core which in turn frees up more IPv4 for the commercial market. That coupled with the fact that it is backward compatible gives no immediate pressure to change endpoints, at least not yet.

AudibleNod (profile) says:

Niche Marketing

I see IPv6 entering into a niche market first. Just like PCs were built in garages and ham radio operators talking to each other, I believe a sect of the industry will be grappling with this very heavily first. Little to no attention will be paid while this group makes developments and advances with what their given. Referring to Overcasts comments this IPv6 solution will not gain the attention it deserves for a while (which can in fact be around the corner in a non-IT time frame).

John Curran says:

It's not running out of addresses, it's running ou

Timothy –

Unfortunately, there’s no way for ISP’s to cost-effectively route addresses
unless they’re within hierarchically assigned address blocks. Even as it is,
some ISP’s are having trouble keeping up with the routing. Once you have
individual customers requiring that their tiny slice of market-obtained
addresses be routed globally, the overall routing tables will grow far
faster than all of the default-free-zone routers can be continuously

The cost to switch to IPv6 is enormous, but the benefit of continuing
to have scalable routing beats the alternative of no Internet at all.


Tim Lee (user link) says:

Re: It's not running out of addresses, it's runnin

Well yeah, I’m not suggesting that individuals would purchase individual IPs and expect their ISPs to route them. But I could easily see a company like Apple buying a couple of class B’s, converting their networks over to them, and then auctioning off their class A to a major ISP in China that needed to expand. It might also be possible to subdivide more class A’s into class B’s, and more class B’s into class C’s, to facilitate more market liquidity. IPs would still need to be left in contiguous blocks to make routing possible, but that doesn’t seem like an insurmountable barrier to a more liquid market.

Christopher Smith says:

Re: Re: It's not running out of addresses, it's ru

Unfortunately, even leaving IP’s in “contiguous blocks” doesn’t help that much. The trick is that even if the blocks are contiguous, if sites have redundant connections to the Internet (as most medium or larger businesses want), their block has to have its own entry in the global routing table; it can’t be aggregated into the ISP’s global routes.

IPv6’s solution is to assign a different /48 prefix from each of the ISP’s; then each system in the network has multiple IP addresses, each of which is both in the ISP’s contiguous block and is uniquely routable through that ISP.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Analogy Police Alert

Ths is the Analogy Police! We have you surrounded! Step away from the keyboard!

Your analogy with x86 falls down because the latter is being supplanted by x86-64, giving us a bigger address space and various performance enhancements while maintaining backward compatibility. There is no way to do the same with IPv4. NAT is a horrible hack which makes all kinds of things–e.g. multimedia streaming, running servers–very difficult to do.

Adam Ierymenko says:

NAT stinks

NAT breaks the fundamental vision of the Internet as a “flat” network. It also encourages lax security practices at the individual workstation level by providing a false sense of security inside the LAN, breaks all kinds of protocols, requires tons of added protocol complexity, and generally stinks.

Tim Lee (user link) says:

Re: NAT stinks

Yeah, but a lot of the work of making NAT work has already been done. Yes, NAT broke a lot of protocols, but those protocols have mostly been re-worked to make them functional under a NAT. Given that there will be NATs for the foreseeable future, most application designers work under the assumption that some of their users will be behind them. And given that most applications are developed that way, there’s relatively little pressure to stop using NATs. It’s a headache for application developers, to be sure, but not one that’s likely to go away any time soon.

Michael Evans (profile) says:

The upgrade path, as x86-64 must be coexistance

In order to get any traction at all, there must be an -easy- way for individual sites to serve the same content on the same hosts with the same domain names. Unfortunately other posters are correct. That means the core (DNS servers, various providers there of, and especially ISPs) must be upgraded first, then then edges can start to talk over the new addresses. Once that happens the benefits of having packets that are easier to route (read less latency for games/interactive content), larger (content again, more for videos), and that can actually directly reach consumer-end points without crippling hacks like port-mapping connections (Slashing latency, and, oh yeah, now acting like a server works too!) returning the connectivity that should have never been taken away.

Of course, that means that operating systems have to actually know how to drop malformed packets, not suffer from buffer overflows or any other lower level attacks like that.

Spicy McHaggis says:

NAT doesn't work

It breaks ANY point to point communications. Your IM may look peer to peer, but it is not. It’s going thorugh a proxy.

And it is so much fun wiring the ports in my router to go to all my machines.

NAT was a solution in search of a problem. Instead of inventing NAT, they should have switched to IPv6 a long time ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Follow the Money

IP4 creates an artificial scarcity of addresses and organizations that acquired large blocks of addresses back when they were available for free now own some valuable assets. As a result, ISPs use this scarcity as justification to charge their customers a premium for static or multiple IP4 addresses as opposed to “temporary” dynamic addresses. IP6 removes this artificial scarcity and makes it more difficult for ISPs to justify charging a premium for addresses. It also kills off the value of IP4 for those who own large blocks. Is it any wonder that ISPs and other IP4 block owners would resist moving IP6?

nethaqr says:

No killer-app for IPv6, no actual solution yet

The biggest hinderance to adoption of IPv6 is that it really provides no “killer-app” visible to either the masses or those who hold the purse-strings.

Its much touted “security” is simply mandated IPSEC compliance, which is a solved problem in v4 space from a stack perspective (what platform that needs it doesn’t have it?), and meantime, BTW, v6 does not magically solve any of the issues of key management, transport overhead, or peer association & configuration that make IPSEC a real pain. And otherwise your websites or home networks are not more secure simply because you run IPv6. If you are selling v6 on the basis of improved security, your product is somewhat oily and snake-like.

“Mobility” is promised, and honestly I see it as possibly even replacing 3rd party VPN functionality… some day when it is actually delivered and usable and scalable and secure and…

Address exhaustion is real, but current IPv6 deployment models either need a dual v4/v6 stack which is impossible to scale if you, um, run out of v4 space -OR- you have a massive flag day where everyone in v4 land jumps the rails and goes direct to v6, like that is going to happen -OR- you develop a workable technology to interop between v4 only and v6 only nodes, using much-derided NAT to actually get work done like it does already, but this time on a much larger scale. I see the last scenario obviously as the one actually being played out, and much like what happened with NAT, once it does, the pressure on V4 space is off because, golly, we can expand the client space with V6 and they can still reach V4 just fine, so what’s the problem? That scenario is likely to make most ivory-tower IETF types foam at the mouth, especially because NAT is involved, but it is historically how we have seen the free market of the Internet deal with problems- find a solution that is good enough, sometimes barely, but typically far from perfect. Migration may happen over a long time period but I see a network that for a long time is a merged v4/v6 space.

There are real problems that us nerdy network types understand, but the holy wars over things like NAT, address space management/prefix length, and multi-homing just make it look to the masses and the bosses like we don’t have our act together. Combine that with the fact that IPv6 isn’t going to improve the user experience, isn’t going to make networks better/faster/cheaper, and that there are other possible means of averting meltdown such as more aggressive v4 space management, and the question becomes “this v6 thing makes my facebook/game/outlook/crackberry *better* *how*, again?”

Overall I think the takeaway from this article is that the market will follow the least path of resistance and greatest path of attractance, that we should recognize that such solutions will spring up in the free market, and that if they solve the problems that IPv6 is aimed at, IPv6 is going to go the way of ISO/CLNS networking- too much trouble for too little return on investment to the end user.

Bryan says:

Also bear in mind that 4G wireless will be using IPV6. 4G essentially uses the internet for all data transmission, including voice. This means that our next gen cell phone network will be delayed until IPV6 readily available. At this point, everything cell phone on a 4G network will have and IP address. We will definitely IPV6 at this time. It is my prediction that the deployment of 4G is the main driver behind the switch to IPV6.

Hector Rodriguez says:

When the IPv4 claims were made it was very valid. We were going to run out of addresses by a set calculated date. How ever NAT (overloading) and Dynamic addressing has slowed down this IP demand by tons. These solutions were not being taken advantage of as much as we use them today.
IPv6 offers a few features im sure your all aware over IPv4 but at the cost of a more chatty network which leads to performance degrades. And with not much of a IPv4 run out scare any more the IPv4 will live on for some time yet. Eventually IPv6 will take over but its going to be a while. Who knows… we may just skip IPv6 all together and up to another IP version.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...