Days of future past

Back when the Internet was first devised, the Internet Protocol (IP) was in its infancy. Emerging in its form as we know it today in 1978, it was designed to facilitate worldwide communication between about 100 hosts on ARPANET. The size of the ARPANET grew throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and the new wave of home computing saw commercial growth explosion on an unprecedented scale.

By 1992, it was clear that the 2^32 addresses available via the IPv4 addressing schema was not going to support the scale of growth anticipated at that time, so several alternative schemes were proposed. IPv6 was the result and its inception was way back in 1996, via a series of documents released by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to describe the protocol.

NAT matters

Early adoption of IPv6 was slow – manufacturers saw limited incentive to drive the feature, instead capitalising on the use of IPv4 Network Address Translation (NAT) to masquerade multiple hosts behind one real Internet IP. NAT however has some technical limitations and certain application layer protocols (for example FTP and SIP) rely on direct host-host communication –needing some very complicated fixes to work with the system.

In the mid-2000s, even with the prevalent use of NAT, IPv4 was becoming a tight resource. Network equipment vendors such as Cisco and Juniper as well as systems vendors including Microsoft and Debian began to implement dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 capable Internet Protocol into their operating systems. Over the following years, support grew and expanded, and by the end of the decade, all but a few systems and vendors fully supported IPv6.

Back to the Future

Moving forward into the 2010s, most Internet Service Providers (including domestic) provide IPv6 by default. Users of the three biggest home broadband providers, Virgin Media Business, Sky and BT all now use IPv6. On the 14th September 2012, RIPE (the European network resource authority) announced that they had exhausted the last IPv4 block. The resource is now limited to a single /8 that RIPE allocate to new network organisations. Anything else, you have to scavenge – buy from IP traders – or rely on what providers have in the bank already. Our sister company, Ai Networks, looks after the ServerChoice Group’s network resources and, while we have addresses to be getting on with, the clock is ticking on this very finite resource. It’s all our duty to be a part of the global effort towards responsible IPv4 usage and encourage efficient use of the ever-shrinking IPv4 address space.

If you’d like an IPv6 allocation, please feel free to drop us a line. By default, we’ll give you a /48, which is 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 addresses. That’s a big number.

What can I do?

As the world gears up to be ready to switch to an all-IPV6 future, there are several ways in which you can create efficiencies in your IPv4 use:

  1. Document, document & document!
  2. We regularly come across networks that have limited documentation for their IP addresses. IPplan, SolarWinds and RackTables are all great apps that can provide documentation facilities for addresses. As a minimum, we’d always recommend that the hostname, CIDR mask, interface and VLAN are recorded for each address. This can help keep on top of how many IP addresses are in use, as well as how quickly they are being used up.

  3. Consolidate subnets
  4. If you have a /29 here, a /30 there, a /29 for this and one more /30 for that, then a /29 has already been wasted in the broadcast and gateway addresses. Consolidating to a single /28 would improve efficiency and create more efficient routing.

  5. Check your resources
  6. Audit your subnets to ensure that the IP addresses that were used for an old project have been returned. Empty or little-used subnets can be shrunk. Contact our network team who can move your gateway to the same range as your hosts and easily help you to change that /28 into a /29.

The RIPE route

If even after doing this you have a need for many IP addresses, you could consider becoming a RIPE Local Internet Registry. Our network team can help with this process and it means RIPE will allocate you up to a /22 (1,024 addresses) of IPv4. These are your addresses to keep and can be routed via your normal IP Transit connection. In order do to this, you must be registered with RIPE and have paid the annual membership fees. These IP resources are very limited and come from the last /8 (addresses beginning 185.x.x.x). If you’re considering this option, don’t delay – do it now.

Need a helping hand?

Hopefully this post has provided some insight. Please feel free to contact the support team on 01438 532 310 should you want further help or advice, including if you've followed the advice above and would like to 'give back' some of your IPv4 addresses. We’re here 24/7 and live and the Network Team live breathe networks, so we’re always keen to talk about yours!

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