The internet is running out of room

By: Leon Penny

Date: 2 November 2011

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The internet is going to run out of room soon (Image: James Cridland on Flickr.)

It has long been accepted that the internet is vital to business operations. Even the smallest firms now rely on a web presence to attract custom and convert interest into sales.

Such exponential growth has been flagged as an issue for many years. As far back as the early 90s, the Internet Engineering Task Force realised that a way needed to be found to conserve address space. It was inevitable that the web would eventually reach its capacity.

More space for everyone

The problem lies with IP (internet protocol) addresses. Each device on the internet is allocated an IP address. These unique numbers allow those devices to communicate with each other.

The first publicly used version of IP addresses was IPv4, which allowed a capacity for 4.3 billion addresses. At the time, that figure probably seemed more than adequate. However, as internet use has exploded with servers, phones and other devices all requiring their own IP addresses, it’s become clear that 4.3 billion is not enough.

Are you ready for IPv6?

Twenty years on and the answer to this predicament has arrived in the form of IPv6, a new version of the internet protocol system. This theoretically offers a further 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses. It’s an impressive and welcome addition, but one that presents a challenge to every small business in the world.

We’re now entering a period of transition between IPv4 and IPv6. During this time, IPv4 will be phased out. New enterprises will automatically be set up in IPv6 and many businesses will migrate to the new protocol. In fact, since the late 1990s many products have been built with IPv6 capabilities - including widely-used operating systems and mobile phones.

As most businesses see the internet as critical to their operations, migrating to IPv6 is a sensible move. There will come a time when IPv4 public addresses no longer exist, so it would be wise to cater for partners and customers with both versions now. This will ensure that no issues arise further down the line.

Getting started with IPv6

It will be much more cost-effective for businesses to start implementing IPv6 now, if only gradually at first. Carrying out a mass overhaul when IPv4 disappears could be time-consuming and disruptive. But how do you get started?

Well, some companies may be already running on IPv6 without knowing it. New operating systems and applications will be IPv6-enabled, so you might simply need to update your firewall or router. Larger firms may require a more complex reconfiguration. It’s also important to check that service providers (like your web hosting company) are IPv6 ready.

As each business is different, individual implementation plans will need to be drawn up. If you rely on an external IT supplier, speaking to them is a good place to start.

By being proactive and planning ahead to make IPv6 fully operational, companies can steal a march on competitors who are sitting back to assess what happens. 

SynergyPlus provides telephony and technology solutions for businesses.

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