This year will see one more regional Internet registry run out of IPv4 addresses, but 2012 will be more of a year to prepare for the inevitable shift to IPv6 than an Internet doomsday, according to networking experts.
By midyear, Europe's RIPE NCC (Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre) is expected to allocate the last of its addresses under the version of Internet Protocol used by most consumers and enterprises now. That event will follow the depletion in April of addresses controlled by APNIC (Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre), the first of the five regional registries to run out of addresses for enterprises and service providers.
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When it comes to Internet addressing, the year now winding to a close may prove to have been the most significant for decades. On Feb. 3, the Internet Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (IANA) got out of the business of assigning blocks of IPv4 addresses, 30 years after that protocol debuted. As planned, IANA handed out one of its remaining five blocks of addresses -- each about 16 million addresses -- to each of the five regional registries, which serve Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Africa.
Though the clock is ticking on the remaining availability of new IPv4 addresses, people working on this transition assure users that they aren't likely to be cut off from either websites or Web viewers for quite some time. Transitional techniques to make the two systems coexist won't seriously degrade Internet performance for a while, some said. What this gives enterprises is time to prepare.
Europe is next to run out of IPv4 addresses
The next nail in the coffin of IPv4 is expected to be hammered in on July 22, according to a forecasting site operated by Geoff Huston, who is an adjunct research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. That's when RIPE is likely to allocate the last of its remaining addresses to an enterprise or Internet service provider, based on the current rate at which it's handing them out.
"That doesn't mean that Europeans are suddenly going to be stripped of their exising IPv4 address space," said Cricket Liu, vice president of architecture at Infoblox, a vendor of automated network control appliances. However, "it's going to be much harder to get IPv4 address space," he said.
That date could move closer if European service providers react as those in the Asia-Pacific region did this year, Liu said. "Once their stock started to dwindle, a lot of carriers went, 'Wow, we'd better get what address space we can, quickly,'" Liu said. The Asian registry depleted its last block in mid-April. Such a run on addresses in Europe is "a real possibility" in 2012, he said. RIPE and other registries have already tightened the rules for IPv4 address allocation to prevent hoarding and panic from draining the pool too quickly, but RIPE might yet do more, he said.
In 2013, it will be North America's turn to watch its Internet registry run out of IPv4 addresses, according to Huston's forecast. Africa and Latin America will face the same in 2014.