IPv4 vs. Big Oil

September 3, 2008

Everyone is complaining about the price of gas at the pump. It’s a plain fact that it cost more than it used to fill up. Why is that? If you picked a handful of economists at random you will likely get a different story from each of them. One often mentioned of late is the oil speculators market. Not being a business guy, I hadn’t really ever paid attention to the oil futures market; much less the futures market in general. The speculation on oil prices got me thinking. Why do people think oil is going to go up in the future?

Most likely because it is a finite resource, and at some point it will become unobtainable through reasonable means. I personally think that the advances in technology will keep the black gold flowing for quite a while, but I am no where near naïve enough to believe that an infinite amount of oil can be contained within the finite confines of the globe we call Earth. Still, there is enough out there either undiscovered or untapped to keep our civilization plugging along well after Al Gore has melted all the ice caps with his private jet.

This led me to consider the impending depletion of the IPv4 address pool. Unlike the supply of magical natural resource oil, the available IPv4 address space cannot be augmented by new technology. There are no hidden underground caches to be found. It’s not like an expedition of the coast of Chile will stick a pipe in the ground and IP addresses will start spewing out. For IPv4, what you see is what you get, and what I see is the last 20% of a shrinking pool.

In theory, the answer is easy. Everyone just needs to jump on the new IPv6 train instead of riding around in their old fashioned IPv4 cars. The practicality of that solution is not quite that simple. That fancy IPv6 train is very limited right now. It currently requires special tracks, and they only go certain places, none of which is grandma’s house. Ultimately, user demand will force local ISPs to start supporting IPv6. In the great dance known as capitalism, they ISPs will bow to user demand and provide this service. However, between now and that future lies a pinch.

It’s that last squeeze of toothpaste before you have to run to the store and get another tube. The hosting industry, being the most voracious of IPv4 address consumers, is actively working towards IPv6 deployment. The real question is how long until the home ISPs start supporting it. All the address space in the world doesn’t help if the consumers can’t browse there. And to that end, doesn’t all that legacy IPv4 address space become a precious commodity? In the not so distant future, is there a speculative market for IPv4 real-estate? I see it as a real possibility. I just wouldn’t want to be the one owning that venture when the last telecom announces IPv6 support.