Internet addresses: An inevitable shortage, but an uneven one

Feb 01, 2011
Better utilization, trading and other strategies can recover twice or four times current utilization. But requests for address double every year, so trading will only help for two years. Credit: USC Information Sciences Institute

As Internet authorities prepare to announce that they have handed over all of the available addresses, a USC research group that monitors address usage has completed the latest in its series of Internet censuses.

There is some good news, according to computer scientist John Heideman, who heads a team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Information Sciences Institute that has just released its results in the form of a detailed outline, including a 10-minute video and an interactive web browser that allows users to explore the nooks and crannies of space themselves.

Heidemann who is a senior project leader at ISI and a research associate professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Department of Computer Science, says his group has found that while some of the already allocated address blocks (units of Internet real estate, ranging from 256 to more than 16 million addresses) are heavily used, many are still sparsely used. "Even allowing for undercount," the group finds, "probably only 14 percent of addresses are visible on the public Internet."

Nevertheless, "as full allocation happens, there will be pressure to improve utilization and eventually trade underutilized areas," the video shows. These strategies have limits, the report notes. Better utilization, trading, and other strategies can recover "twice or four times current utilization. But requests for address double every year, so trading will only help for two years. Four billion addresses are just not enough for 7 billion people."

The IPv6 protocol allows many, many more addresses – 1000 1000 trillion – but may involve transition costs.

Web addresses are nearing full allocation. Yellow boxes indicate unallocated blocks, while green areas show responses to census and high utilization. Credit: USC Information Sciences Institute

Heideman's group report comes as the Number Resource Organization (NRO) and he Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) are preparing to make an announcement saying they have given out all the addresses, passing on most to regional authorities.

The ISI video offers a thorough background in the hows and whys of the current IPv4 system, in which each address is a number between zero and 2 to the 32nd power (4,294,967,295), usually written in "dotted-decimal notation" as four base-10 numbers separated by periods.

Heidemann, working with collaborator Yuri Pradkin and ISI colleagues, produced an earlier Internet census in 2007, following on previous work at ISI -- the first complete census since 1982. To do it, they sent a message ('ping') each to each possible Internet address. The video explains the pinging process.

At the time, some 2.8 million of the 4.3 million possible addresses had been allocated; today more than 3.5 million are allocated. The current effort, funded by Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and the NSF, was carried out by Aniruddh Rao and Xue Cui of ISI, along with Heidemann. Peer-reviewed analysis of their approach appeared in ACM Internet Measurements Conference, 2008.

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eachus
5 / 5 (3) Feb 01, 2011
Talk about solving the wrong problem. I can run IPv6 on my home computer, my laptop, and my wireless router at home. More important, the ISP I use, Comcast, fully supports IPv6. (My son works for Comcast, and had more than a bit to do with that.)

Why hasn't everyone switched to IPv6? I don't know. The needed software support has been in operating systems for years now, and the big holdup has been some large Internet switches with software that hasn't been updated for years. In some cases the hardware version hasn't been built in years either, and the hardware vendor has stopped supporting the switch. Worse, in some cases the switch vendor has gone out of business.

I think what is needed is for the major ISPs and backhaul networks to get together and set a drop dead date for IPv4 in the US and Canada. This would require remapping software at the boundaries, but that was always part of IPv6. Of course, if the US did this, Europe and the Far East would probably follow quickly.
Skultch
not rated yet Feb 01, 2011
I think what is needed is for the major ISPs and backhaul networks to get together and set a drop dead date for IPv4 in the US and Canada. This would require remapping software at the boundaries, but that was always part of IPv6. Of course, if the US did this, Europe and the Far East would probably follow quickly.


You're right about the hardware and right that a drop dead date is probably the only thing that will force hands. This is a substantial investment that will eat into already small profit margins (for non-giants like Comcast/Quest/etc). Bandwidth usage is 10x the concern of address shortages. ISPs will implement more NAT before investing months of profits on hardware that does not improve performance. They'll switch to IPv6 when they have to, not sooner.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Feb 01, 2011
I think what is needed is for the major ISPs and backhaul networks to get together and set a drop dead date for IPv4 in the US and Canada.
IPv6 day is June 6th 2011. Almost everything you said above is factually inaccurate. The reason for the delay was to address those very problems, primarily within foreign infrastructure.
gmurphy
not rated yet Feb 01, 2011
IPv6 will solve so many problems. The anycast routing in particular will address a ton of configuration management overhead. I personally look forward to the day when I can route directly to my home machine from anywhere in the world rather than sharing a single external IP address with god knows how many people.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Feb 02, 2011
IPv6 will solve so many problems. The anycast routing in particular will address a ton of configuration management overhead. I personally look forward to the day when I can route directly to my home machine from anywhere in the world rather than sharing a single external IP address with god knows how many people.

You're still going to have to route due to the way the internet functions. It's a physics problem, not a logical division problem.

If every machine was connected to the internet directly, no one would be able to send or receive data. Keep in mind, only one computer can talk on a logical segment at a time. If you remove network segmentation, you'll bring the internet to a standstill.
gmurphy
not rated yet Feb 04, 2011
@Skeptic_Heretic, packet switched routing was designed with full connectivity in mind. What you're describing is circuit switched routing. Network segmentation is explicitly enforced by level 2 networking (ethernet, frame relay, atm, etc).