May 11, 2010

Internet Running Out Of IP Addresses

Estimates suggest that in less than 18 months, there will no longer be big blocks of net addresses to give out.

Experts say that September 9, 2011 will be the day that the last of those portions is released for net firms and others to use.

Everything connected to the Internet needs an "IP address" to ensure data reaches the right person or device.  An IP address acts like an address for computers and servers connected to the Internet in order to find each other.

A newer scheme is being rolled out, but experts warn that many firms and countries are being slow to switch.

The net is currently built around version four of the Internet Protocol addressing scheme (IPv4), which has space for about four billion addresses.  The IPv6 is its successor, which has trillions of IP addresses available.

The continued growth of the net is tied to this pool of addresses.

Although four billion was enough in the 1970s when the Internet was being set up, the growth of the World Wide Web has been rapidly depleting this number.

The growth of the Internet has meant that only about 7% of these addresses, which is about 300 million, are left to allocate.  This entire pool is expected to deplete in April 2012.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) handed over two of the big chunks of remaining addresses in early May.

The removal of these 17 million addresses from the global pool meant that the date on which there will be no more big chunks left jumped forward.

"This whole business of forecasting depletion involves a little bit of reading the tea leaves," Axel Pawlik, managing director of Ripe NCC, which hands out IP addresses in Europe, told BBC News.

"Ten years ago we said it would happen far in the future," said Mr Pawlick. "Now we are all running around with iPhones, we're in that future."

Although the cut off date is 18 months away, some fear it will shrink as the pace that IP addresses get used speeds up.  IANA handed out eight of the big blocks of IPv4 addresses in 2009.  In the first 100 days of 2010 it has handed out six.

Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at business ISP Timico told BBC that rationing of the remaining IPv4 addresses was already under way.

"You cannot just ask for more IP addresses," he said. "You have to prove you need them."

"The registries will not let you have more until your reserves reach a certain threshold," he said.

Davies said that although IPv4 and IPv6 can live alongside each other, anecdotal evidence suggests it is not a trouble-free union.

The process of translating one address into the format of another introduces a significant delay.

Davies fears that unless more ISPs and others start to adopt IPv6 then those delays could start to hit general web browsing.

"It adds quite a lot of latency onto people accessing your network because it has to go through network address translation," he told BBC.

Pawlick from Ripe said it saw significant growth in request for IPv6 addresses over the last few months.

"What we are not seeing yet is those IPv6 addresses being used on the Internet," he told BBC.

IPv6 tracking services show that less than 1% of the Internet's top 1 million websites run IPv6.  Other statistics show that only 6% of the networks that form the Internet use IPv6.  China is one of the biggest users of the new addressing scheme.

Companies are now being pushed to start using IPv6 in order to get a jump on any problems caused by the shortfall.

"The key thing to focus on is the opportunities IPv6 brings your business before IPv4 runs out," Simon McCalla, director of IT at Nominet, which oversees the .uk domain, told BBC.