THE SKY IS FALLING! EVERYBODY MOOOOOOVVVVEEEE! WWWHHHYYY??!! OH THE HUMANITY!!!
Are those your reactions to the depletion of IPv4 space? Probably not. If you haven't seen the IPv4 Exhaustion Rate countdown in the sidebar of SoftLayer.com, head over there and check it out ... At the current rate, there will be ZERO unallocated IPv4 blocks by the middle of February 2011, and that's not a good thing for the Internet as we know it.
Will you need to move your servers into a bomb shelter to protect your now-even-more-valuable IP addresses? Will Google stop Googling? Will there be riots in the streets as over-caffeinated sysadmins flip cars and topple dilapidated buildings in pursuit of lost 32-bit addresses? What does it really mean for you as a hosting customer and web surfer?
The sky won't fall. Your servers are safe in their data centers. Google will still Google. Sysadmins will still be working hard at their desks. But the belt is going to start tightening, and after a while, it might get pretty uncomfortable.
What's Really Happening
All of these IPv4 Exhaustion Rate counters are loosely tracking the IPv4 space that hasn't been allocated by the International Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a Regional Internet Registry. The Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) are ARIN (USA and Canada), LACNIC (Latin America, South America and Caribbean), RIPE NCC (Predominantly Europe and Russia), AFRINIC (Africa) and APNIC (Asia Pacific).
When the IANA gives out its last block of IPv4 addresses, every available IPv4 address will be allocated to one of these registries. And that's when the fun will really start. Since SoftLayer operates primarily out of the United States of America, for simplicity's sake, we'll use ARIN as we talk about the next steps for RIRs.
Anyone who's requested large blocks of IPv4 space in the past few years can attest to the significant changes in the request process. Additional justification is required, you have to be using a certain percentage of the IPv4 space you've already been provisioned and you have to get in line.
When the IANA IPv4 address space is exhausted, regional registries like ARIN will still have space available, and that space is all they're going to get. As a result, it'll probably be even harder to get get large blocks of space from those registries.
SoftLayer requests IPv4 space from ARIN for our customers. As ARIN slows the distribution of IPv4 space with additional requirements, it'll be more difficult for providers like SoftLayer to get additional space. In the same way ARIN orders IPv4 space to have stock for SoftLayer to request, SoftLayer has a pool of IPv4 addresses already assigned to us that we provision to our customers' servers.
- ARIN won't be able to get any more IPv4 space from IANA.
- It will be more difficult for SoftLayer to get IPv4 space from ARIN.
- It will be more difficult for customers to get IPv4 space from SoftLayer.
How long will ARIN be able to maintain a reserve of IPv4 in the midst of qualified need in the region? How long will SoftLayer continue to receive requested IPv4 address blocks from ARIN? How long will SoftLayer's pool of IPv4 addresses last for our customers? These questions don't have definite answers yet, but for ARIN and SoftLayer, the general answer is "As long as possible."
What Does that Mean for You?
In the short term, it depends. If you find yourself in need of a huge block of IPv4 addresses, you're going to run into a lot more trouble. If you're just ordering a server and need one public IPv4 address, you might not notice much of a difference. If you're somewhere in between, you might see a few changes as we tighten our belts in response to the belts above us being tightened.
In the long term, it means you should prioritize IPv6 adoption. You can run IPv6 in parallel with IPv4 on your SoftLayer servers, and we'll do our best to help you understand how to implement IPv6 in your environment. IPv6 needs to be in the back of your mind as you create new applications and prepare to scale your business.
Consider the possibility that you'll never be able to get another IPv4 address when IANA runs out of IPv4 space. What will that do for your business? How would that change your development priorities? What are the IPv6 plans for the mission-critical hardware/software vendors you use?
IPv6 traffic is only a small fraction of overall Internet traffic right now, but you can be sure that as IPv4 space is harder and harder to come by as you move down the funnel, IPv6 traffic is going to grow exponentially. The work you do in preparing for that will need to be done now or later. It's a lot easier to start working on it now than to wait until you need it ... by that time, it'll already be too late.