Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I am not a number! (because there's none left)

Apparently, we're rapidly running out of IP addresses. These are the unique identifying numbers that all technology must have in order to use the internet. An IP - internet protocol - address is the web equivalent of a phone number. If you didn't have a phone number you wouldn't be able to communicate with other telephones. It's the same with IP addresses. If you want to know what the IP address of your computer is, click here.

Thomas Watson, head of IBM in the 1940s, famously once said that, 'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers'. He was monstrously wrong of course. But no one in their wildest imaginations could have predicted just how many computers, peripherals, mobile phones, PDAs, media players and other devices would need to access the internet. Consequently, back in 1977 when the internet was being set up, the architects of the system installed the current IP system (called IPv4) believing that it would provide enough unique addresses - 4.2 billion of them - to last forever.

At time of writing, fewer than 14% of these numbers are now left and experts predict they'll all be allocated by 2010.

'So what?' I hear you cry.

Well, to be honest, it probably won't affect you ... as long as internet service providers (ISPs) and hardware manufacturers pull their fingers out. There is an upgraded system - called IPv6 - that was developed over 10 years ago that uses 128 bit addresses (as opposed to the current 32 bit addresses) and will provide over 340 trillion, trillion, trillion new, unique IP addresses. If that's hard to visualise, the actual number of new addresses looks like this:


Actually, that probably didn't help did it? However, internet experts say that they've been talking to larger ISPs and most of them don't seem to have a clue that this is a crisis waiting to happen ... or even that IPv6 exists and is ready to go.

Vint Cerf, one of the internet's 'godfathers' says that, 'They are persisting in the ‘nobody is asking for this’ mentality. When they finally wake up, there is going to be a mad scramble for IPv6 and they won’t implement it properly.'

He also claims that consumers need to be aware of IPv6 and start checking that the products they buy are IPv6 compatible. Most of the larger companies like Microsoft and Apple are already IPv6 but many smaller companies are not. So there's something to think about when you buy that next 'i-phone killer' or PDA. If it ain't IPv6 ready, you could find that your spanky new shiny thing won't work in a couple of years' time.

Of course, if you do buy such things, you could be labelled as a geek. But there is a simple test you can do to check. Just read this:

1f y0u c4n r34d 7h15, y0u r34lly n33d 70 637 l41d.

I have no idea what it says. Honest.

Photo of Vint Cerf (c) The Guardian


Anonymous said...

That's so interesting. Who knew?
Now, when someone deciphers that code, do let me know what it says.

In the mean time I'm off to prepare some oysters......

Debby said...

Well, if Vint Cerf is one of the godfathers of the internet, he must be well acquainted with our Al Gore, inventer of the internet.


Not all Americans are pompous lying braggarts, but...

Katie said...

ok, I am hoping to have all new shiny spanky things in a couple of years anyway. But then in a couple of years after that I will probably need new things AGAIN. Oh technology.

and don't worry I will get the last part taken care of. ha.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Rob - Enjoy the oysters and your just desserts ...

Debby - We know that, dear. It's just that, sadly, it's the pompous lying braggarts (lovely word that - we should all use it more often) who get all the airtime.

Katie - It's true. Nothing lasts any more. I believe it's called 'Built-in Obsolesence' (if I've spelled that right). As for the last sentence - y0u n4u6h7y m1nx!

Debby said...

Dear heavens. I just realized that I could read the last sentence. You've made Tim very happy.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Debby - Lucky old Tim. Perhaps Rob has some spare oysters?

j h woodyatt said...

Debby: "Well, if Vint Cerf is one of the godfathers of the internet, he must be well acquainted with our Al Gore, inventer of the internet."

Actually, Vint Cerf does know Al Gore. What he wrote about Gore's support of the Internet is here.

Stevyn Colgan said...

There you go, Debby Cave-Fullofspiders.

Thanks for popping by J H. I'm almost ashamed to say that I barely understood a word of your blog except the word 'Dublin'. I now feel ill-informed and dinosaur-like about computers. And I thought I was ahead of the game with my IPv6 post. Sigh.