August 21, 2017

What’s in a number – IPv4 versus IPv6

In the deepest darkest depths of the internet there’s a revolution afoot. It’s not one likely to spark hours of dinner table conversation or halt traffic in the street. But perhaps it could, because the simple matter of the two digit difference between IPv4 and IPv6 has major ramifications in the tech world.
So let’s break down some numbers, explain IPv4 and IPv6, and outline why it matters to enterprise…

Drew StaleyBusiness Development Manager

In the deepest darkest depths of the internet there’s a revolution afoot. It’s not one likely to spark hours of dinner table conversation or halt traffic in the street. But perhaps it could, because the simple matter of the two digit difference between IPv4 and IPv6 has major ramifications in the tech world.

So let’s break down some numbers, explain IPv4 and IPv6, and outline why it matters to enterprise…

The big deal of internet protocol

Since 1983 every item communicating on the internet has been allocated an address under IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4). Acting like a postal system, the IP address allows packets of information to be accurately sent from one location to another.

IPv4 works under a 32-bit system, where each address comprises four sets of numbers, or octets, ranging from 0 to 255 that are separated by decimal points.

Therefore 10.224.89.101 is an IP address, with each IPv4 being specific to a unique piece of internet accessing equipment. Computers then convert these numbers to binary code. Thus the number of IP addresses available under IPv4 is 2^36 or 4,294,967,296 to be precise.

But believe it or not, we’ve run out…

The end of IPv4

In about 2011, we began running out of IPv4 addresses. Microsoft held a few in reserve as did MIT and some other major global players but other than that the river of gold had run dry. And right about now that impact is starting to take effect.

So after 34 years of operation, what happens next?

Enter IPv6…

The fine points of IPv6

In 1998, the experts charged with overseeing the internet introduced IPv6. A retake on the success of IPv4, it’s opened up a wealth of fresh addresses that look a little different.

IPv6 is represented by eight groups of four hexadecimal digits, separated by colons that look a little like this: 2001:0db8:0000:0042:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.

They can be abbreviated where the value is zero, but ultimately vastly expand the range of new addresses available taking the range to 2^128.

IPv6 also offers the following benefits, according to Network Computing:

·         More efficient routing

·         More efficient packet processing

·         Directed data flows

·         Simplified network configuration

·         Support for new services

·         Additional security

Excellent…but before you whip out the calculator and start multiplying to the power of 128, there’s a little trouble brewing.

The trouble with expansion

Wikipedia notes: “The two protocols are not designed to be interoperable, complicating the transition to IPv6”.

In basic terms that means new devices operating with IPv6 addresses may not converse willingly with their predecessors operating under version 4, although there is help at hand.

Network World explains now is the time for enterprise to start making the transition to IPv6, and that they can coexist providing the right planning is in place.

We’ll cover more on migration in a coming post.

About Allstar

Allstar Solutions is a leading provider of ICT services, including security and IT personnel. You can learn more about our services here, or contact us for further advice.