Market Solutions to the IP Address Squeeze

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2008-07-22 Print this article Print

Creating a market for addresses as the "free" supply dwindles rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but nothing else can possibly work.

Perhaps too late, it's widely recognized now that the IPv4 address pool will run out in the next few years. The current prediction, based on current data, is for the IANA to exhaust its pool on Jan. 25, 2011, and for the last block from the last RIR (Regional Internet Registry) to go on Dec. 26, 2011. Perhaps someone will buy it in a Boxing Day sale.

The answer to the problem has been around for ages: IPv6. It's supported by all major operating systems and network hardware vendors (at least for enterprise equipment), and many tests have shown it to be practical. Problem is, it's incompatible with IPv4, so all networking software needs to be updated to support it.

A number of proposals have been made for a transitional software setup to help people move from IPv4 to IPv6 (Comcast made one just the other day), but it's clear that these are moving users too slowly, if at all. We'll run out before a lot of people have moved to IPv6.

Of course, when we say we've "run out" we mean the official registries have run out of them. The addresses all will still exist, in the hands of other people. One solution is to allow a market to develop in these addresses so that they can move to those who need them based on supply and demand. Currently this is not permitted; you can't sell the address blog that your RIR allocated you.

This is especially a shame, since addresses were allocated in large chunks with no real concern back in the '80s and even '90s, and as a result there are many organizations with huge blocks of addresses they don't need, but they have no reason to give them up.

These are some of the problems considered by the Internet Governance Project, a consortium of academics with Internet expertise. They recently issued a report titled "Scarcity in IP Addresses: IPv4 Address Transfer Markets and the Regional Internet Address Registries," which considers several approaches to the problems.

The report is enthusiastic about a market as the solution to the problem. It calls a market a "pragmatic solution" to the problem of optimizing use of the limited resource of IPv4 addresses. It says that the risks of a market approach are small compared with the potential benefits and that the change is not really so radical. On the other hand, failing to create a legitimate market runs the definite risk of creating an illegitimate one, which would create significant problems through inaccurate registrations.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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