With the recent news that BT will be offering IPv6 connectivity to its end users in 2015, the rest of the industry has started pondering if it could be time to finally take the dive and jump on the bandwagon.

Running out of addresses

The Internet is built on a system of individual subnets and addresses. Every computer and system that connects to the Internet needs an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Most IT-literate people will be familiar with the traditional system of four 8-bit numbers, separated by dots, to produce a 32-bit number that looks like 192.168.192.168.

The IPv4 addressing scheme limits the number of hosts on the Internet to 232, or 2,147,483,647. While this may seem like a huge number, the advent of cloud technology, mobile devices and the much-hyped Internet of Things has meant that where we used to have just one IP address for one computer, there are now many devices with IP addresses, accelerating the exhaustion of IPv4 address space.

Regional Internet Registries in Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America & Caribbean areas have already announced total regular IPv4 exhaustion. The American region is projecting their exhaustion later this year and Africa's exhaustion is projected for 2019.

IPv6 to the rescue

Luckily, IPv6 is a mature protocol that has been around for over 10 years (and part of ServerChoice’s network since its inception). This ‘new version of the Internet’ allows for 2128, or 340 undecillion addresses. To write it out would be a 340 followed by 36 zeroes. That’s a big number. To try to put it into context: that's more than the number of stars in the universe, more than the number of grains of sand that would volumetrically fill the earth and more than even the number of unique addresses that would be assigned after 1 trillion years, if a new IPv6 address was assigned at every picosecond. So quite a few then.

So why aren't I using it already?

Even though the technology has been mature for over a decade, hardware and software support for IPv6 has traditionally been lacking. Until recently, even some of the highest-grade carrier network equipment did not fully support IPv6, thus presenting a significant cost for network operators to roll out IPv6 throughout their entire estates. This means that deployment has been slow, with some operators using a chicken-and-egg scenario to describe the will of content and eyeball networks to deploy it, each blaming the other for their lack of deployment. In 2015, with BT rolling out IPv6 and other operators likely to quickly follow suit, this is predicted to be the year that IPv6 takes off.

What happened to IPv5?

In reality, IPv6 is actually version 5. The reason for skipping a number? Simple. There was already a real-time streaming protocol called IPv5 and IANA decided to jump to 6 to avoid confusion.

When will IPv4 be switched off? What about security?

In reality, IPv4 may never be switched off. Perhaps a better question would be: "when will I have an IPv6-only connection?" It's likely that most carriers will take the form of a dual-stack IPv6 and NATted IPv4 address. Even when IPv6 is fully deployed by eyeball networks, it is likely that some smaller sites will still use an IPv4-only stack, possibly predominantly in Africa (whose IPv4 addresses are likely to last until 2019).

IPv6 removes the need for NAT, which was widespread following early predictions of IPv4 exhaustion in the late 1990s. NAT has the side effect of masking the real IP address by "hiding" behind the internet-facing IP. IPv6 removes this consequence, however most IPv6-capable CPE routers have address-hiding features and have a one-way stateful firewall enabled by default.

ServerChoice's Stance on IPv6

IPv6 has been available on the ServerChoice network since first build and is available to all colo and cloud customers who wish to make use of it. We strongly recommend building a dual-stack network that runs both IPv4 and IPv6. This way you’ll be available to all users of the Internet by default, whatever their addressing scheme and protocols.

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