Microsoft has been forced to start using its global stock of IPv4 addresses to keep its Azure cloud service afloat in the U.S., highlighting the growing importance of making the shift to IP version 6.
Microsoft doesn't mention IPv6 in the blog post, but the use of the protocol would make its address problems disappear. The newer version of the Internet Protocol adds an almost inexhaustible number of addresses thanks to a 128-bit long address field, compared to the 32 bits used by version 4. Since every connected device on the Internet needs an IP address, there will be increasing pressure to move to IPv6 as more non-computer devices come online in the so-called Internet of things.
The IPv4 address space has been fully assigned in the U.S., meaning there are no additional addresses available, Microsoft said in a blog post earlier this week. This requires the company to use the IPv4 address space available to it globally for new services, it said.
Microsoft makes it clear that the IP address registration origin does not equate to the physical location. For example, you can have an address registered in Brazil but allocated to a device or service physically located in Virginia. When Azure users install a new server it is still hosted in U.S. and data will remain stateside, Microsoft said.
Smaller companies are already doing this to keep their businesses going, and we'll likely see more of it in the future, according to Jörgen Eriksson, project manager for IPv6 at .SE, the organization in charge of the Swedish top domain.
The adoption of foreign IP addresses gives some breathing room, but there are also drawbacks. It will become more difficult to use geolocation services that rely on IP addresses. Geolocation and ad revenue are such a powerful driving forces that they may help speed up the implementation of IPv6, Eriksson said.
Moving to IPv6 may stimulate more competition among ISPs, as new competitors will be able to get all the addresses they need more easily.
As the RIRs (Regional Internet Registries) have started to run out of version 4 addresses, the need to implement IPv6 has become more acute. The RIR's job is to manage, distribute, and register IP addresses within their respective regions.
In April, ARIN (American Registry of Internet Numbers) said it was down about 16.8 million addresses. It will now be extra frugal, and there may be circumstances where it can no longer fulfill qualifying requests due to a lack of inventory.
On Wednesday, LACNIC (Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Center) announced that IPv4 can now be considered exhausted in its service region. The organization will continue to distribute IPv4 addresses, but also at a greatly reduced rate.
To get around this shortage, a market for IPv4 addresses has been created where some companies even make acquisitions to get their hands on more addresses, according to Axel Pawlik, managing director of the RIPE NCC (Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre). But in the long run rolling out IPv6 is the only sensible solution, he said.
Microsoft says like most other vendors that it's committed to the rollout of IPv6. The foundational work to enable IPv6 on Azure is well underway, according to an FAQ. However, it's unable to share a date when IPv6 support will be generally available at this time, it said.
They key to handling this transition as smoothly as possible is planning, which does not seem to be happening with consistency.
"People are distracted by trying to make money, and only looking at next week's priorities. But at some point IPv6 will be next week's priority, and there will be some problems," Pawlik said.
There is a wealth of material online for people who want to learn more about the protocol. RIPE has posted a manual on its website for network architects and network managers who need help implementing IPv6 in their organizations.
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