Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why does it take a crisis?

The organization that hands out IP addresses to ISPs in Asia just ran out of IPv4 addresses. You can read more about it here. That means that soon, perhaps very soon, some Internet users in Asia are going to start having problems getting on the Internet. That's because the current scheme (IPv4) wasn't designed for as many IP addresses as it turns out we need. Why not? For the same reason that back in the 1940's the CEO of IBM said the total world market for computers was six. Sometimes even people with vision lack vision.

Thankfully, the answer to the IP address shortage doesn't involve waiting in long lines. In fact, the answer was developed years ago: IPv6. It uses much longer IP addresses along with some hexidecimal to provide more IP addresses than we will ever need. No, really. I think it's totally safe to say that this time. In fact, the number of IP addresses available under IPv6 is so big, I had actually never heard of the number before. It sounds like one of those numbers my kids make up when they want something to sound really big. "Dad, there are like a bazillion frogs in the backyard." I think that long before we run out of IPv6 addresses, we will have replaced the Internet with whatever it will be replaced with. Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?

Unfortunately, switching to IPv6 isn't as simple as typing in a new IP address. Behind your Internet connection is a lot of hardware that needs to be replaced in order to support IPv6. This is great news for companies like Cisco (who make such equipment) in the same way that the meltdown of nuclear reactors in Japan is great news for Toshiba who makes very safe 4S reactors that will no doubt now see speedy approval. As other continents start running out of IP addresses as Asia has, ISPs and the upstream backbone providers will finally switch to IPv6 and once again all will be right in the world.

If you are reading this, you are likely a Real Studio user. If that's the case, you will be happy to know that supporting IPv6 is relatively easy for us and you will, for the most part, be abstracted from it. Abstracting you from the gory details is, after all, our job.

But why does it always take a crisis for us ("us" being society in this case) to act? These problems are not like the asteroid in the movie, Armageddon, where we get just a few months notice that we are all going to die unless Bruce Willis can save us. These problems are ones we have years and years of warning about and have known solutions that don't involve sending oil workers into space.

I hope that the appropriate organizations that provide Internet access to the rest of the world will learn from Asia's cautionary tale.

As an unrelated note, for the very first time, I wrote this entire blog post on my iPad.

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