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Reality Check
August 2001

Robert Vahid Hashemian Stop Getting Used To It


A couple of weeks ago I partook in a town referendum. At issue was a parcel of land literally behind my house that developers have been itching to develop. Most of the town residents, including myself, are against such development and I wanted my voice heard. However, there was one problem: I had no idea how to use the archaic mechanical voting device. Once the curtains were drawn, I stood in front of this machine, totally dumbfounded. Finally my wife, hearing my cries for help, came to my rescue and showed me how to use the contraption.

In the age of the Internet, GHz microchips, and space tourism why would we need such complex mechanical devices to register one's vote? I just imagined what people had to go through to cast their votes. To my surprise (and embarrassment) nobody else seemed to have a problem with this task. I probed the attendant about voting through the Internet. She looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked: "Why?" The lesson for that day: People are comfortable with what they are accustomed to, and will use it as long as it gets the job done.

An example of this concept in the Internet world is slowly coming upon us and many are still unaware of the repercussions. It is the impending IPv4 to IPv6 switch-over that's looming in the background. It may arrive sooner than we think. IPv4 is the version of IP (as in TCP/IP) that the entire world uses to connect to the Internet. It has been in use since 1981 and has proved its stability and expandability time and again in the face of exponential growth of connected nodes and the servers.

An IPv4 address comprises 32 bits consisting of four 8-bit segments known as octets. Theoretically such configuration can support up to 4,294,967,296 addresses. While such a large address space seemed unlimited back in the early days of the Internet, by 1992 it had become apparent that given the pace of growth in online nodes, IPv4 needed a replacement. It has been estimated that by 2010 the current IPv4 system will be exhausted. IPng (Next Generation) was born as a result of this necessity. It has since come to be known as IPv6. With a 128-bit address specification, IPv6 can support 340,282,266,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,465 addresses. Just to show how astronomical this number is, every square inch of the earth's surface area can be assigned 430,381,032,076,568,144,027 different addresses.

You would think that with only a few years left in IPv4's life, people would be scrambling to migrate to IPv6. Not so, and it all goes back to that voting machine mentality I referred to at the beginning of this article. We have become too accustomed to the current IP system. Many network managers and programmers (myself included) continue to work and program with the existing system and see no need to bother with IPv6. In fact, innovations such as subnets, CIDR (classless interdomain routing), and NAT (network address translation) have been introduced over the years to combat the IPv4 address shortage by assigning smaller address blocks to users and reducing the routing table sizes in the routers. Nearly all of the networking applications and protocols used on the Internet are IPv4-based and network programmers continue to use IPv4-based APIs to write their applications.

IPv6 certainly has a considerable advantage over IPv4. The gigantic address space aside, it comes with a slew of other benefits such as enhanced security, improved QoS, and a very efficient routing scheme, among many others. It is certainly a boon to Internet telephony. But switching over to IPv6 is not going to be like applying a service pack to your server. I am envisioning countless months of pain and suffering before companies can begin to integrate IPv6 into their applications and networks. The reluctance to move is so great that Microsoft has so far shown little initiative to push its users towards IPv6. Other software and operating system vendors have just begun to bundle some IPv6 functionality with their products.

A move to IPv6 is a no-brainer when considering that today less than eight percent of the world's population is online and millions of people are just waiting to go online in the near future. But I, for one, am quite content with IPv4 and not looking forward to the day that I have to update the applications, install new server software, and buy new hubs and routers. If we thought Y2K was bad, here comes IPv6 to give it a run for its money.

Are you concerned with the impending IPv6 migration avalanche? Use your IPv4 SMTP server to send me an e-mail while you still can.

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality each month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the position of director for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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