From the Actrix Online Informer December 2010

IPv4 versus IPv6

Recently a customer wrote and asked, "There has been a lot of recent publicity regarding the move from Ipv4 to Ipv6 for internet addressing. I think your readers would be interested in knowing how Actrix is approaching the IPv6 problem and what changes we users will be required to undertake."

We couldn't agree more, especially when one considers that some amongst the media have been beating this up into far more of a story than it really is. It's almost like Y2K all over again.

So what's all this about? To make it as easy as possible, here's the problem and what's being done about it in simple questions and answers. 

A bit of background

First you need to know what an IP address is (or have a rough idea). It's not the same as a web address but it's similar. When you type into your browser, the server you're connected to actually translates that string of letters into a set of four numbers separated by a dot (.). They have to do that because computers don't speak in words; they speak in numbers. Every device that is plugged into the internet has a designated and unique IP address (including the one you're reading this on) that sets it apart from every other device. Think of your IP address as your street address; before another computer can communicate with you via the internet, it needs to know how to find your computer, and the numbers in your IP address will tell it where and how to do that. IP stands for Internet Protocol. "Protocol" means the rules that govern how information is shared and distributed via the internet.

What’s the problem?

Currently, the dominant protocol on the internet is IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4). In IPv4, IP addresses consist of four numbers. For example, Google's IP address is: Type that directly into your browser and it will take you to Google.

With IPv4's structure, there are a possible 4.3 billion different IP addresses. When IPv4 was developed in 1981, that number was thought to be more than enough to last a very long time. However, due to the explosive growth of the internet and the popularity of social networking and blogging which developers could not have anticipated, we've already used up 4.29 billion of the possible 4.3 billion addresses. According to one online IPv4 exhaustion counter, there will cease to be any new IPv4 addresses on 2 March 2011 – but that's probably a bit extreme.

What does this mean?

There are some who anticipate that the exhaustion of IPv4 will be the end of the internet, that it will collapse in on itself and we’ll all return to the Stone Age. Others are saying that the internet will slow down and become impractical to use.

So why are you saying I should keep calm?

The impending exhaustion of IPv4 has certainly come as no surprise. It's actually been anticipated since the late 1990s. IPv4 is currently being replaced by a new set of internet protocols called IPv6, and where IPv4 had 4.3 billion possible combinations, IPv6 has billions of billions of combinations.

Yes, it's true there are some glitches. One problem is that IPv6 addresses can communicate with IPv4 addresses, but IPv4s cannot communicate back to the IPv6s. Technically, this means that parts of the internet could become inaccessible unless you are running IPv6 compatible software. However, there is still no reason to fear. IPv6 developers have already created patches that make IPv6 addresses compatible with certain IPv4 software.

What is Actrix doing about this?

We have been working on IPV6 implementation for some time, and we believe we have things in hand. The media are sensationalising the issue a little and there's really no need for a mad rush. Actrix is certainly not going to run out of IPv4 addresses any time soon, and we will be ready in time. In terms of operating system compatibility, IPv6 has already been implemented on all major operating systems in use in commercial, business, and home environments.

What do customers need to do?

Right now not much! Eventually we will all have to upgrade our internet broadband routers to be IPv6 compatible, but that’s still in the future. You could rush out and do that now, but there's no point unless you're already doing some whiz-bang stuff that requires the additional features of IPv6. By the time you need to upgrade, advances will have been made. Why miss out on new features by buying unneeded technology too early?

So to sum up, yes, IPv4 addresses are running out, and while there are certain issues facing the transition between IPv4 and IPv6, there’s nothing that isn't being worked out. Actrix customers don't need to worry, and we'll keep you informed of anything you need to do, in plenty of time.



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