IPv4 has reached its limit, and we must move on to keep making progress. Four billion addresses seemed like enough when there were only a handful of computers on the network. But now that we expect to connect all 7.2 billion humans (and their devices), we must move to IPv6 and its 340 trillion, trillion, trillion available addresses.
The Internet phenomenon
The Internet is an interesting phenomenon. I say phenomenon because it's more than a single network or technology, larger than any nation or continent and serves multiple purposes for people worldwide.
I say interesting because it's fundamentally unlike anything seen before: an experiment that escaped the lab and became an integral part of the world's economy; a communications medium that crosses cultures, borders and languages; an on-demand repository for much of the world's knowledge.
More interesting and phenomenal yet is how it works. The Internet introduced many of us to the idea of "coopetition" or cooperative competition -- a functioning network of networks that requires all participants to follow the same rules, a.k.a. standards, produced by the IETF and used by all but enforced by no one.
This willingness to collectively follow standard protocols and play nice together makes the whole thing work. Imagine if your ISP used a different technology from every other ISP to transmit your information. You would only be able to communicate with other customers of your ISP; everyone else would be speaking another language. So it's great that competitors and partners alike agree to run the same protocols, to speak the same languages.
However, technology doesn't sit still, and the Internet is no exception. The big question is: How do we approach innovation and progress on such a massively shared medium? On a platform built and sustained by multiple organizations worldwide? How does the agreed-upon infrastructure change, when change is needed?
It changes slowly, we've learned. And as a result, in this New IP world, the Internet is currently facing growing pains. These challenges of success focus primarily around scale and security.
Unfortunately, that 7.2 billion population number I mentioned above doesn't account for the coming tsunami of sensors and embedded devices, commonly called the Internet of Things (IoT).
And moving to IPv6 means more than just additional addresses. The Internet and the protocols it operates on were built on a model of trust. However, bad actors are out there. Whether the threat is spammers, hackers, hijackers or your own government, everyone must actively ensure their own online privacy and security. Protocols such as Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) allow Internet users to better protect themselves.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and route mis-origination (hijacking) attacks can be prevented by secure implementations of the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and proper anti-IP address spoofing (anti-spoofing) measures. These simple steps can make the entire Internet more secure for everyone.
Here's the catch: The distributed, decentralized nature of the Internet, which makes it so resilient, so pervasive and really so amazing, also makes it slow to change. In a network of networks, to implement a new Internet protocol means each of those autonomous networks implements the new protocol independently. In order for IPv6, DNSSEC, TLS, Secure BGP, anti-spoofing or any other common-good technology to be successful requires action at each of (at least most of) those autonomous networks.
Worse yet, in today's world of shareholders, bondholders and quarterly returns, deploying one of these technologies on one network has little effect. The real benefits don't kick in until a large portion of the Internet has rolled them out.
The broccoli connection
This is why my friend, mentor and former boss Leslie Daigle called these protocols "broccoli technologies." They're good for you, but not everyone likes eating them.
For example: Deploying IPv6 today requires resources but there is no short-term ROI. You can't charge current customers more for it. You're still offering the same services, just over a newer version of IP. However, if you don't implement IPv6, you'll lose connectivity to a growing portion of the Internet -- your future customers.
A similar scenario plays out for DNSSEC, TLS, securing BGP configurations and implementing anti-spoofing measures. They all require investment today by a multitude of organizations to ensure the future of the Internet tomorrow. In short, they require long-term cooperative thinking. This type of thinking built the Internet, so we know it's possible.
If we don't all eat our broccoli today, we may soon see this magnificent Internet start to distort, fragment or even crumble.
— Chris Grundemann, Director of Deployment and Operationalization, Internet Society, special to The New IP