IPv6 allocations: The tide comes in

Indeed 2007 was a big year for IPv6, so with that year behind us, where do things stand?

Last year I discussed the decline in IPv6 address allocations since 2002 and the predicted that the tide would begin to turn. Now that 2007 is behind us, it is worth a look at last year's statistics to see where things stand.

Indeed 2007 was a big year for IPv6. The five regional Internet registries (RIR) -- tasked by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to govern IP address allocations -- made a total of 379 IPv6 allocations last year. That is about 70 per cent growth from 2006 and close to the 2002 peak, a dramatic jump from what was a 5-year pattern of decline. Clearly there is interest and movement towards IPv6.

All RIRs made more allocations in 2007 than in 2006 with the exception of the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), which was just slightly down. But AFRINIC demonstrated the most growth in its overall allocation base at over 60 per cent. The Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry also continued on a fast pace, with the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre and the RIPE Network Coordination Centre in Europe moving steadily along as well.

The big story is the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), whose 114 allocations represent about 42 per cent growth to its allocation base. ARIN serves the United States, which is often said to have little interest in IPv6 and is behind the rest of the world. That appears to be changing, most likely as a result of the self-imposed June 2008 government mandate for IPv6 compliance.

It is worth noting that most allocations made were to service providers. Until 2007, RIR policies dictated that enterprises must acquire IPv6 addresses from their upstream service providers. There were no policies that allowed enterprises to acquire provider independent (PI), or "portable," allocations directly from an RIR. Although this policy had the good intentions of promoting address aggregation and controlling routing table growth, it fell under scrutiny for various reasons.

First, the policy contradicted the primary motivation for IPv6, which is the dwindling IPv4 address space, the difficulty many organizations have in acquiring addresses and the many side effects that presents. The policy lead to this conundrum: "I can't acquire IPv4 addresses and am being told to migrate to IPv6, but despite IPv6's virtually infinite address space, I still can't acquire my own addresses?" Notwithstanding the benefits of aggregation, this contradiction was tough to defend.

Second, the policy creates an anticompetitive situation. Regardless of IPv6 features that make renumbering easier, changing a live network's address scheme is always logistically complicated and disruptive. An enterprise may decide to stick with a service provider it may be unhappy with simply to avoid the risk and effort involved in renumbering.

Third, the policy created problems in multihoming scenarios. In today's world where application and network availability are truly mission critical, creating redundancy through multihoming is a must for many organizations. In IPv6, unlike in the IPv4 Internet, it is policy that service providers only announce their aggregate blocks and not that of other service providers. This creates a hardship for those who want to have multiple upstream providers.

For these and other reasons -- and only after considerable debate that is still ongoing -- the restriction on provider-independent space needed to change. IPv6 provider-independent policies have recently been adopted by some RIRs and are up for consideration by others. Because these polices are new, they have not have been taken full advantage of yet.

So what does all this mean for 2008? It is likely that IPv6 will gain even more momentum. Many international deployments will actually gain visibility. China will unveil its national IPv6 network at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, bringing IPv6 into the international spotlight. The US government mandate is set for June. This will influence deployments on the commercial service provider side as well.

In 2007, we saw announcements about IPv6 backbone deployments from major service providers such as Verizon (UUNet) and Sprint. As IPv6 provider-independent allocation policies kick in, it is likely there will be a considerable boom on the enterprise side. All told, 2008 may be the year that IPv6 makes it to prime time.

Campbell is president of Millennia Systems and can be reached at dcampbell@millenniasystems.com.

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