Cisco Gears Up For IP-Address Shift


With the supply of addresses for the Internet's current protocol version set to run out in about two years, Cisco Systems is pitching service providers on a “carrier-grade” network-address translation solution to help them move into the future.

The current Internet-protocol version — known as IPv4 — provides only 4.29 billion unique addresses. Those are expected to be depleted as soon as the fall of 2011, according to Internet experts. At that point, providers will be forced to begin more widely using IPv6, which provides an astronomically large address space of 2 to the 128th power, enough to given hundreds of trillions of addresses to every person on Earth.

The issue is that only 1% of the Internet has been converted to IPv6, according to Cisco, so ISPs need a way to translate between the two incompatible protocols. “The problem in our windshield right now is IPv4 exhaust,” said Mike Capuano, director of marketing for Cisco's service provider routing and switching group.

Cisco has developed a hardware blade for its CRS-1 core routers that provides up to 20 million address translations and a software upgrade for its ASR edge routers. The solution enables IPv4-only devices to communicate with IPv6-only devices, and vice versa, and also provides large-scale IPv4 network address translation. “You can't just flash-cut over to IPv6, so you have to do a reasonable step-wise translation,” Capuano said.

Although some providers, including Comcast, have begun supporting IPv6 in their own networks, there hasn't been a big uptake yet, said Richard Jimmerson, chief information officer of the American Registry for Internet Numbers. ARIN distributes large blocks of IP address space to ISPs and other organizations in North America and parts of the Caribbean.

Providers will need to “flip on IPv6 — the alternative is that they can't grow their businesses,” he said.

Cisco plans to make the large-scale address translation features available in early 2010. The vendor has not determined pricing. Cisco is testing the technology with providers worldwide, including Japan's NTT Communications, France's Free and China's Cernet.