John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), told attendees at the Campus Technology conference in Boston on Wednesday that the IP address authority's pool of IPv4 addresses has dwindled to 90,000 and will be exhausted in about two weeks.
"This is a pretty dramatic issue," says Curran, who founded ARIN in 1997 and was once CTO of Internet pioneer BBN.
Curran's revelation came during a talk during which he urged IT pros from educational institutions to upgrade their public facing websites to IPv6 as soon as possible. Not that the IPv4 address pool drying up will result in such websites being cut off from the Internet, but Curran did say moving to IPv6 will provide much more direct access to end users whose mobile and other devices increasingly have IPv6 rather than IPv4 addresses.
The nonprofit ARIN, which along with four other regional bodies manages the database of all IP addresses on the Internet, will not be the first of those organizations to run out of the 32-bit IPv4 addresses that have served Internet users to date. APNIC, which serves Asia, ran dry in 2011. Europe's RIPE exhausted its supply in 2012.
While ARIN running out of IPv4 addresses is alarming, Curran is bullish on IPv6 growth. Big dot.coms like Facebook and Google have embraced IPv6, and router vendors such as Cisco and Juniper have supported it since the early 2000s. The major telecom companies in the United States have switched over to IPv6 in a big way this year and installed gateways to maintain access for IPv4 devices, and Apple is on the cusp of getting fully behind IPv6 with the release of iOS 9 later this year.
Some 21.5% of queries to Google now come via IPv6 connections, vs. just 8% a year ago and 2% the year before that, according to Curran.
Still, the ARIN chief says educational campuses are behind the government and industry in moving to IPv6 and he's been trying to get outfits such as Internet2 to pay more attention to the matter (he cited NIST's IPv6 adoption page as a good place to check out the status). So Curran spent most of his talk at the Campus Technology conference encouraging attendees to get their organizations to upgrade their public facing websites to IPv6, a process that he says isn't as complicated as it might seem in most cases.
Then again, he does call the overall move to 128-bit IPv6 addresses "the biggest change we're ever doing in history of any system ever."
IPv6 adoption must happen to accommodate booming Internet use (41% of the 7 billion people in the world can now access the Web) and the explosion of Internet-connected devices from smartphones to Internet of Things gadgets and systems. Whereas IPv4 addresses max out at 4.3 billion devices supported, at least 50 billion addresses are probably needed given current connectivity trends, Curran says.
But bringing it down to the scale of college campuses, here's what he says needs to be done.
"Your boss thinks your website is on the Internet... you're not, surprise, you're on the old Internet," Curran says. "You folks have (IPv6-enabled) smartphones that can't connect to your own websites on your campus." (Though actually you can, via ISP gateways, he clarified.)
The good news, Curran says, is that upgrading your websites to IPv6 doesn't mean you need a whole new set of servers, routers, firewalls or load balancers. You just need to turn IPv6 on in those devices, and if vendors don't support IPv6, you need to push them to do so. You also need to make sure that your ISP turns on IPv6, and if you can't get an IPv6 address block from your ISP, you might need to go to ARIN, which will give you one for free if you already have an IPv4 block, or sell you one if you don't.
Benefits of moving to IPv6 should include improved performance for those accessing your website, especially if you're serving up audio and video, Curran says. Facebook has seen 20% to 40% faster performance via IPv6 because traffic isn't bouncing around between gateways and data centers.
A lesser known benefit of making the switch is improved traffic analytics, unpolluted by mapping between IPv4 and IPv6, Curran says.
One final reason to learn about IPv6, Curran says, is because it is also known as "the full employment act for Internet engineers and consultants." Not a lot of people are experts in it right now, so you could be looking at job security for years to come.