Update on IP Addresses

May 20, 2011

In June of 2010 we issued an article about the Internet Running out of IP Addresses and we have an update for you on this story. But first we want to refresh your memory about this issue.

Any device that uses the internet has to have a unique number assigned to it. It’s like an address or telephone number. This number is called an IP number. IP stands for Internet Protocol. The original design of the IP address didn’t foresee the popularity that the Internet would gain. The result is that the numbering scheme could only go so high and we began to realize we were running out of IP addresses.

A new scheme was invented. This new scheme is called IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6). Although we have this new scheme and we have known that we were going to run out of IP addresses for many years, the people responsible for getting things moved over to IPv6 have frankly dragged their feet. The people I am referring to are Internet service providers and manufacturers of networking equipment.

So that’s it in a nutshell. The latest news is that it has really happened. It was officially announced that we have run out of IP addresses. Did the Internet go boom and stop working? No. Why? Because we haven’t really run out; yet. It’s complicated. Basically, IP addresses are allocated to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other similar entities in large blocks. All of these large blocks of IP addresses have been allocated now, but the entities who were allocated the large blocks of IP addresses have available IP addresses inside these large blocks.

Something else that also helps is routers. Let us say that your small business or home has 5 computers. Your router is assigned an IP address by your Internet Service Provider. Computers in  your home or business that are attached to the router are assigned a local or private IP address. The router handles everything so that even though the computers attached to it don’t have true internet IP addresses, they can still use the internet through the router. The router knows which computer the information belongs to and when the result comes back, it routes it to the correct computer. So a home or business with several computers will only actually use up one IP address.  If it wasn’t for that, we would have run out of IP addresses a long time ago.

So for the next year or two, there is going to be some shuffling of IP addresses around so the internet can keep expanding. Networking manufacturers and Internet Service Providers are now finally taking this seriously and doing something about it. But because it’s so complicated and there’s a lot to be done, it’s going to take time. So, there is going to be a long period of time when we are using both the old IP numbers and the new IPv6 numbers. And there is actually going to be a test of this on June 8, 2011. It’s being called World IPv6 Day. Geeks all over the world are very excited.

So what does this mean for the average residential Internet user? In the short term it doesn’t mean much. At some point your internet service provider will be contacting you about replacing your cable/DSL modem. At that point, you will also need to replace your router (if you have one). Until your ISP contacts you, don’t’ worry about it.

For most businesses, however, it won’t be that easy. The cost and effort depends on the size of the business and what type of equipment and software you have. As with residential customers, you can’t really do anything about it until your ISP upgrades their equipment. However, you should start planning for this. Networking equipment like modems, switches, routers, access points, and things like that will have to be replaced with new IPv6 compatible equipment. Network printers, Network Attached Drives, Networked copiers, and any other networked equipment may have to be replaced. Servers may need software upgrades. And any software that uses IP addresses to communicate with other computers over the internet may need to be upgraded. All businesses should start taking inventory of their software and equipment and document a plan. We also recommend that you contact your ISP to get an idea of timing so you can plan your budget accordingly. If you need help with any of this, give us a call.

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