I have a t-shirt in my closet that I’ve owned since my freshman year of college. It’s a plain gray shirt, full of holes and practically threadbare. It’s a size or two too small at this point, not quite having survived the assault waged by my increasing appetite and decreased physical activity. It’s stained and faded. It also happens to be the most comfortable shirt that I own despite all of the above statements. No matter what, when I dig down to the bottom of the vendor t-shirt pile, it’s always there waiting for me. And every time I see it, I can’t help but put it on and wear it around for the rest of the day. Because it brings back good memories and it still feels good, small and worn-out though it may be. And no matter how many times my wife tells me to throw it out or hides it in the back of the closet, I’ll still hold on to it for years to come.
And now you ask yourself, “What was the whole point of that tangent???” Well, dear readers, IP version 4 is a lot like my old t-shirt. It’s familiar. It’s been around forever. Yes, it’s full of holes and has some ugly dirtiness about it that we’d rather not have to deal with (**cough NAT cough**). It’s too small, having been outgrown by the very Internet it helped to found. Our appetites for devices and connectivity have outpaced our activity in keeping current with addresses to consume. But, it’s still a comfortable old friend to look upon and experience nostalgia. The first time you “got” subnetting. The day you read RFC 1918. The first time you accidentally configured a host with the broadcast address of a subnet. The day you figured out what those Class E addresses were REALLY for (Shhh…it’s a secret to everybody.) And it still works for the majority of the world at large.
IP version 6 isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky vision, it’s a cold hard reality of the world we live in. We’re going to have to move, and we have to do it sooner rather than later. Pretty soon, all my appliances are going to have IP addresses, and if my toaster can’t talk to the microwave, there’ll be hell to pay. But in order to facilitate that kind of universal connectivity, we have to make some hard choices. We have to go back and add on to the years of work we’ve done making our grand Internet. And it scares the hell out of a lot of us. Most network, um, rock stars can tell you their IP scheme off the top of their head. They’ve spent time and effort and reams of paper documenting the management VLAN IPs and loopbacks. And the thought of wrecking all that for the new, shiny protocol that still a little mysterious frightens and downright pisses them off. Or, implementing IPv6 on top of all their hard work makes them upset they’re having to reinvent the wheel all over again. And so, they dig down into the pile of t-shirts and find their old friend, IPv4. They find ways of making it work for a few more months. Carrier NAT, class A reallocation, class E allocation, call it what you want. It’s like telling yourself that if you go to the gym that old t-shirt will fit again, only saying it while you’re eating Doritos. We all know it’s time for IPv4 to go. Yes, it will still be around for a long time to come so users can access the Internet. Similar to good old DOS, it’ll be here in one form or another well past it’s useful life. And much like my wife, everyone is saying that the old IPv4 has to go. And much like I do when my wife tells me that, I nod my head in agreement and then promptly ignore her (Shhh…don’t tell her I said that). Because as long as IPv4 is still around, we’ll still be able to remember the glory days.
So maybe in 2011, it’s time to really take a look at IPv6 and what it’s going to take to pull our networks into a new generation. Finally enable dual-stack on our devices and stop consuming so many IP addresses. Drive a stake through the heart of NAT and sweep it under the rug where it belongs. But when I go through all of that, you can rest assured I’m going to be wearing my comfy old t-shirt. That is, if my wife doesn’t find it first.