Is the Internet running out of space?
Since the early 2000’s, there have been estimates of the Internet running out of space. The first notable estimate was from Paul Wilson (director of APNIC) in 2003. His work can be read here.
Since then the news reports have increased that the internet running out of space. People in IT and related professions have kept there eye on this problem, but there has been little incentive up at the decision making level of Internet Service Providers and Network companies to do much about it. However Internode has been a notable exception to this and was the first Australian ISP to be IPv6 ready for consumers.
This month we look at what the problem is, what impact it may have and how it may be fixed.
When your computer connects to the internet, it is given a unique ‘IP address’. It’s like being given a ‘Room number’ when you check in to a hotel. This is called a Dynamic IP address. Some computers (e.g., email servers) get to keep the same ‘Room number’ all the time so people know where to find them. This is called a Static IP address. Most consumer and some business internet connections will have a Dynamic IP address. But often for a few dollars extra per month you can have a Static IP address. Either way, your IP address or ‘Room Number’ on the Internet will look something like ‘126.96.36.199’. This is called an IPv4 address. If you have a network at home, each computer, modem router and printer will also have a IP Address.
The problem is that computers talk in binary (ones and zeros), so in binary your address looks like 11011000.00011011.00111101.10001001. With a finite number of ones and zeros in this 8 character.8 character.8 character.8 character number, that’s a total of 4.3 billion unique addresses. But now that’s not enough and some of those addresses are reserved for internal company networks and other reasons, which make the usable number even smaller. The world now has too many computers (including networking equipment, mobile phones, and tablet/netbook/laptop computers) that want to be on the internet and we’re running out of hotel rooms.
If we did nothing about it, we would literally not be able to connect any new computers to the internet.
But the worlds top Internet Engineers have been aware of this problem for some time and in Dec 1998 they launched a new standard for hotel room numbers (called IPv6). This new address would look like 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334 and would allow for 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 unique addresses!! If you want to read that out loud, it’s 340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion, 463 sextillion, 463 quintillion, 374 quadrillion, 607 trillion, 431 billion, 768 million, 211 thousand, four hundred and fifty six.
The challenge is that the old address and the new addresses can’t natively talk to each other. If your computer can handle a new IPv6 address (Windows XP Service Pack 2 or newer software like Windows 7), it won’t be able to talk to anything on the internet that’s still using the old IPv4 address. And because the internet is literally a collection of other people’s computers, we can’t just pick a date and change every computer over at the same time.
The whole situation then is kind of similar to the Year 2000, ‘Y2K’ bug. The good news is that worlds Internet Engineers know about this problem too, so they are working on transition mechanisms to allow the old and the new to talk nicely to one another. There has been no sense of urgency until now to do anything about it, as it’s going to cost them time and money to fix, but it’s not going to make anyone any money. However for those Internet Companies that get it wrong, and it impacts customers, then it will cost them and their customers money.
Thankfully we have an Australian Internet Service provider such as Internode who are well aware of this, as Simon Hacket (Internode Managing Director) said in a statement “If the Internet engineering community gets this right, our customers won’t notice anything at all,”
If you have any questions or concerns about the Internet or any technology need, talk to your local Computer Troubleshooter.