I made a joke tweet the other day:
It did get lots of great interaction, but I feel like part of the joke was lost. Every one of the things on that list has been X in “This is the Year of X” for the last couple of years. Which is sad because I would really like IPv6 to be a big part of the year.
Ars Technica came out with a very good IPv6-focused article on January 3rd talking about the rise in adoption to 10% and how there is starting to be a shift in the way that people think about IPv6.
Old and Busted
One of the takeaways from the article that I found most interesting was a quote from Brian Carpenter of The University of Aukland about address structure. Most of the time when people complain about IPv6, they say that it’s stupid that IPv6 isn’t backwards compatible with IPv4. Carpenter has a slightly different take on it:
The fact that people don’t understand: the design flaw is in IPv4, which isn’t forwards compatible. IPv4 makes no allowance for anything that isn’t a 32 bit address. That means that, whatever the design of IPng, an IPv4-only node cannot communicate directly with an IPng-only node.
That’s a very interesting take on the problem that hadn’t occurred to me before. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to make IPv6 work with IPv4 in a way that doesn’t destroy things when the problem has nothing to do with IPv6 at all!
The real issue is that our aging IPv4 protocol just can’t be fixed to work with anything that isn’t IPv4. When you frame the argument in those terms you can start to realize why IPv4’s time is coming to an end. I’ve been told by people that moving to 128-bit addressing is overkill and that we need to just put another octet on the end of IPv4 and make them compatible so we can use things as they are for a bit longer.
Folks, the 5th octet plan would work exactly like IPv6 as far as IPv4 is concerned. The issue boils down to this: IPv4 is hard-coded to reject any address that isn’t exactly 32-bits in length. It doesn’t matter if your proposal is 33 bits or 256 bits, the result is the same: IPv4 won’t be able to directly talk to it. The only way to make IPv4 talk to any other protocol version would be extend it. And the massive amount of effort that it would take to do that is why we have things like dual stack and translation gateways for IPv6. Every plan to make IPv4 work a little longer ends in the same way: scrap it for something new.
Fresh from our take on how IPv4 is a busted protocol for the purposes of future proofing, lets take a look at what’s driving IPv6 right now. I got an email from my friend Eric Hileman, who runs a rather large network, asking me when he should consider his plans to transition to IPv6. My response was “wait for mobile users to force you there”.
Mobility is going to be the driving force behind IPv6 adoption. Don’t believe me? Grab the closest computing device to your body right now. I’d bet more than half of you reached for a phone or a tablet if you didn’t already have a smartwatch on your wrist. We are a society that is embracing mobile devices at an increasingly rapid rate.
Mobility is the new consumer compute. That means connectivity. Connectivity everywhere. My children don’t like not being able to consume media away from wireless access points. They would love to have a cellular device to allow them access to TV shows, movies, or even games. That generation is going to grow up to be the primary tech consumer in the next ten years.
In those intervening years, our tech infrastructure is going to balloon like never before. Smart devices will be everywhere. We are going to have terabytes of data from multiple sources flooding collectors to produce analysis that must be digested by some form of intelligence, whether organic or artificial. How do you think all that data is going to be transmitted? On a forty-year-old protocol with no concept of the future?
IPv6 has to become the network protocol to support future infrastructure. Mobility is going to drive adoption, but the tools and software we build around mobility is going to push new infrastructure adoption as well. IPv6 is going to be a huge part of that. Devices that don’t support IPv6 are going to be just like the IPv4 protocol they do support – forever stuck in the past with no concept of how the world is different now.
It’s no secret I’m an IPv6 champion. Even my distaste for NAT has more to do with its misuse with regard to IPv6 than any dislike for it as a protocol. IPv6 is something that should have been recognized ten years ago as the future of network addressing. When you look at how fast other things around us transform, like mobile computing or music/video consumption, you can see that technology doesn’t wait for stalwarts to figure things out. If you don’t want to be using IPv4 along with your VCR it’s time to start planning for how you’re going to use it.