ISPs need to curb number appetites

Internet numeric addresses are being gobbled up at an alarming rate in Australia and Asia, warns the head of the registry body that manages them.

To relieve the pressure, service providers should curb a number of wasteful habits, says Paul Wilson, director general of the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APnic) About half the 100 million numeric addresses at APnic's disposal have been spoken for. The remainder is being allocated at about half a million each month and the rate is rising as Asia's economic recovery gathers pace.

One of three registries worldwide which license allocation of the four billion numeric addresses in the Internet's 32-bit address space, APnic will be checking the track records of organisations applying for new address blocks.

It will examine how efficiently Internet service providers (ISPs) and other applicants are using their current allocations and how they intend to manage new ones, Wilson said. "If we spot avoidable wastage, we will discuss the matter with them."

Issues in the domain name space -- the alphabetic names assigned to Internet protocol hosts for the convenience of human users -- capture most media attention.

However, the Internet's routing tables are founded on the underlying numeric addresses to which the alphabetic names are linked.

Historically, wastage rates were high because of the way in which numeric addresses were parcelled out. Universities, for example, were routinely allotted Class A licences, each of which locked up 20 million numeric addresses.

The situation was partially eased with the arrival of the finer-grained Classless Interdomain Routing Protocol (CIDRP).

Even with CIDRP however, an ISP that only needs 513 IP addresses must be allocated a block of 1024. Wilson identified a number of scenarios where ISPs or companies with large internal networks should implement conservation efforts.

For example, organisations that link thousands of users on internal local area networks to the Internet should implement a Network Address Translator (NAT). Sitting on firewalls, NATs dynamically map internal addresses to the public Internet space. But NAT hardware still needs speed improvements to cope with the demands of large private networks. NATs can also create conflicts with some Internet protocols.

Another area where addresses are being consumed are virtual Web servers operated by ISPs. Some large ISPs run hundreds of virtual servers on a single physical machine and assign each one its own numeric address.

That squanders addresses because a properly configured physical server only requires a single numeric address to support the activities of its virtual systems, Wilson says.

In the longer term, the Internet's transition to the IPv6 protocol and its vastly expanded 64-bit address space will resolve the issue. But that changeover is still five to seven years from completion.

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