IPv6 migration is not just about giving in to scaremongers [ITP.net (United Arab Emirates)]
(ITP.net (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) If you are non-technical, or even just differently technical, you may wonder what all the fuss is over IPv6. The cable wranglers have been squabbling about the problem for years now, but recently the Internet of Things has begun to resonate with a far wider audience and has propelled the discussion more into the mainstream.
IPs (the unique Internet Protocol addresses that allow Web-connected devices to share information) are now required for a mesmerisingly large, and growing, number of devices. Washing machines, fridges and TVs need them; security cameras need them; soon watches and items of clothing will need them. Because of the widening of machine types and their numbers, the demand for IPs has sky-rocketed. As a result, network specialists are straining to point out the dangers of running out of IPs, but apparently few organisations are listening. Very few have implemented v6, as they don't feel the need. Memories are still fresh of the apparent alarmism that was the Y2K bug and the C-suite has had enough.
And so two camps have arisen, much as they did with Y2K, but this time the "Don't panic" brigade has the upper hand.
But is this really alarmism? And who can you believe? What is known is that a device with a v4 IP will not be able to talk to one with a v6 IP, leading to a potential quagmire of incompatibility that could see the Internet as we know it grind to an ignominious halt. So it seems prudent to at least explore the facts surrounding the versions.
For those of you who don't like taking the word of experts when they tell you how many addresses IPv4 and v6 can support, we can prove it with a little number base arithmetic just so you know you are not being duped. I will assume no knowledge.
First of all, a word on what number bases are. In everyday life, we use base 10, or decimal. The number 999 is really made up of nine hundreds, nine tens, and nine units. Each "column" (units, tens, hundreds, etc) is the base number raised to a sequentially higher power. The power indicates how many times the number 1 should be cumulatively multiplied by the main number: 10 0 gives 1 (units); 10 1 gives 10 (tens); 10 2 gives 100 (hundreds) 10 3 gives 1000 (thousands); and so on.
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But the options for bases are by no means restricted to 10. In other walks of life, specifically machine-centric ones like computing, we use others. The one you are probably most familiar with is binary, or base 2. Its maximum digit is 1, just as base 10's is 9 and it is used because it is a ready means to represent on-off states in memory cells or magnetic media. So 1 is on and 0 is off.
In binary, the number 111 is actually made up of one four, one two, and one unit, giving the decimal equivalent of the number 7. So the columns for base 2 run like this: 2 0 for 1 (units); 2 1 for 2 (twos); 2 2 for 4 (fours) 2 3 for 8 (eights); and so on.
Another common base is 16, or hexadecimal. If you are new to number bases you might be asking how its maximum digit might be represented, since it is 15 and already has more than one digit. Well, we use letters: 10 is A; 11 is B; and so on up to F, which stands in for 15.
If you want to know how many combinations of digits exist between 0 and 999 (or how many unique numbers you can make from three digits where the base number is 10) you instinctively know that it's 1,000 because you instinctively grasp decimal numbering. But what if you want to know how many unique numbers you can make from N digits with a base B system? Well, if you look at 999 you can see the answer is one more than the maximum number you can represent (999 + 1, because you have to include zero), or as a shortcut, you can just raise the base number to the power of the number of digits (B N, or 10 3 in this case).
IPv4 uses a formatted string of four, seemingly decimal numbers and has a range of 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. In fact, now you know about number bases you can see that this is really a four-digit number with a base of 256. If we apply B N now, we can see (with a little help from a calculator, unless you happen to be a savant) this shakes out to approximately 4.295bn. This is the absolute maximum number of unique IPs that can be generated using the v4 system, but actually the number of IPs available for public use is around 3.7bn. 256 4 can also be written as 2 32, which is why IPv4 is referred to as a 32-bit system.
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IPv6 uses a formatted string of eight, seemingly hexadecimal (base 16) numbers and has a range of 0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0 to FFFF.FFFF.FFFF.FFFF.FFFF.FFFF.FFFF.FFFF (this is only one possible formatting style for v6, but is most easily comparable with v4). This can be thought of as an eight-digit number with a base of 65,436. In this case B N gives (with definite help from a calculator, even if you are a savant) the following number: 3.4*10 38. This is 34 with 37 zeros after it, or if you prefer a number you can speak aloud in everyday conversation, it is 340 undecillion. This is the maximum number of unique IPs that can be generated using the v6 system, with the public-use figure sitting at around 42 undecillion. 65,436 8 can also be written as 2 128, which is why IPv6 is referred to as a 128-bit system.
As an interesting exercise, I thought we should imagine that humankind one day solves the problem of interstellar travel and also comes up with some nifty planetary engineering methodologies so that we can place 10bn humans on a planet surrounding each of the stars in our universe (note "universe", not "galaxy"). That's 10bn people for every star in every galaxy.
Let's assume 10 24 stars in the known universe, which is just one of the estimates on offer from cosmologists. And let's also assume that the Internet pervades this cosmological Diaspora. Under IPv6, each human could own 4,000 devices before our intergalactic government would have to step in and implement IPv7.
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In other words, under IPv6, we would run out of space for humans in the universe before we would run out of IPs.
If you believe some of the figures touted by industry researchers, the Internet of Things is going to spawn a spectacularly overpopulated digisphere. Estimates for the number of connected devices by 2020 vary wildly, from just over 20bn to 75bn, but whichever team of experts you believe, we are still in trouble, right?
Well not necessarily, at least not right this minute. Network address translation (NAT) is an infrastructure technique that changes IP headers in transit to allow one public IP address to stand for many private ones. It can be used to extend the number of connectible devices.
But even with NAT, we someday will have to migrate from one system to another. Y2K had a natural, inbuilt deadline, while IP migration has one that is elastic, with room for argument. But we cannot patch the wheel forever. The third platform is staring us in the face; when you also consider IoT and IoE we ultimately have to say OMG and face facts.
While the crunch has not yet come, it might be wise to get on the bandwagon sooner rather than later before you find you have to share it with millions of other rollouts.
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