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IPv6 and its impact for Web Hosts and Users

Europe has finally exhausted its supply of IPV4 addresses, so what now? Well, stem those tears, now it's time for IPV6. Because this was always going to happen!

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the global body which allocates IP addresses to the five regional Internet Registry (RIR) organisations only had around 4.29 billion IPv4 addresses in the first place. And only 3.7 billion of these were actually usable. The organization Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) which represents Europe, The Middle East and Russia, declared it was down to its last 16 million IPv4 addresses in September 2012 which might sound a lot but in reality is not. These last 16 million addresses are reserved for members of RIPE NCC who take the form of network operators such as Internet Service Providers, enterprises or academic institutions. 

RIPE NCC is not the first region to run out of its allocation either, Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) ran out in May 2011 and has be whittling down its reserve allocation ever since. However the shortage of IP addresses has not come about as fast as expected by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) the body which since the 80’s has been working on extending IPv4 with technologies like Network Address Translation (NAT) and ultimately replacing it with IPv6.

IPv4 is the 32 bit Internet Protocol address system that assigns a distinct number to every device that is internet enabled. IPv6 is the planned replacement but is an 128 bit address system allowing for a massive 3.4 x 1038 addresses. And that's more than enough to go around for the considerable future, perhaps enough to outlast the internet in its current form. All devices being shipped for the last few years by hardware IT suppliers have been IPv6 enabled and all operating systems have IPv6 compatible software included for some time.

So we haven’t run out of IPv4 addresses as fast as we expected, we already have a replacement lined up in IPv6, make the switch and we are all sorted, nothing to worry about. Unlikely. IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4, they are two very separate protocols, they can run alongside one another in what some refer to as “Ships in the Night” if all devices in the network chain support both protocols. The reality is there are millions of legacy devices that only support IPv4. This potentially leaves a huge headache for devices continuing to connect harmoniously.

So where does that leave web hosting firms - one of the largest collective owners of network equipment such as routers and switches, and banks of servers all with their own IP addresses delivering millions of websites to billions of people. 

It leaves them without doubt as being potentially a key point of failure for some devices & users not being able to connect to websites.  This would be a major fail for any serious web hosting firm. Web hosts can’t control devices out with their operation but they can test their own systems to ensure there is no single point of failure using both protocols. 

The reality is the major websites such as Google and Facebook are meeting IPv6 head on by switching to IPv6 well ahead of time as are the leading web hosting firms around the World. In a recent interview Memset technical director said “Users and applications of the Internet are rapidly growing, and IPv6 will enable Memset and our industry to continue to drive innovation. Keeping our websites and their infrastructure up to date is vital in today’s work environment and to ensure the future growth of the Internet and Memset is proud to play such a pivotal role.” So ask yourself, is your webhost ready for IPv6? It’s time to check.

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Thursday, 11 August 2022
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