The National Telecommunications and Information Administration held a workshop Wednesday to address the ongoing (slow) transition to IPv6. Guests included executives from VeriSign, Comcast, Akamai, Verizon, and Google. This is the first time the Obama administration has addressed the problem and represents a growing awareness in the political community of its importance.
IPv6 is designed to replace the current IP address standard, IPv4. Right now IP addresses take the form A.B.C.D, where each letter is an 8 bit integer. This blog, for instance, has the IP address 126.96.36.199. Each web site has its own unique IP, and although 2^32 addresses is a lot of options (about 4.29 billion), the Internet is running out. IPv6 solves the problem in the most obvious way: bigger numbers. The new standard has an address space of 2^128. Yes, that’s vastly more IP addresses than we’ll likely ever need, but the extra space gives more room for structuring each address, making routing more efficient.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the milder economic climate, the Bush administration did quite a bit more to promote the adoption of the new standard. What’s interesting is that private industry hasn’t taken up the ball. Comcast, at least, has started IPv6 trials, but it’s unclear when its networks will be ready. Trends indicate we’ve got at least a few more years of growth in IPv4, so there’s still time.
The current administration’s workshop comes in at least a few years before the storm. From the attendees, it looks like the information industry is willing to consider a government solution. Since IPv4 and IPv6 are not directly compatible, some degree of coordination is clearly necessary to make the transition. There are, at least in theory, mechanisms to deal with the period when some hosts support only IPv6 and some services are IPv4 only, but the various ISP’s will still have to communicate effectively to make sure they’re in place. We don’t know what the long term results of the workshop will be, but if it results in even a little more communication in the industry, I think we can call it a success.