By: Marc Lindsey, Avenue4 LLC

During the past few months, there has been considerable public discussion about the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses available through traditional sources such as the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).  Many contributors jump to the conclusion that we all must migrate to IPv6 immediately to avoid disaster. These cries to migrate now, however, often rely on FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) and obfuscate the truth. As it relates to the availability of IPv4 addresses, I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s famous line “the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” The same holds true for IPv4 numbers.  While ARIN has essentially exhausted its supply of available IPv4 addresses, IPv4 addresses are not obsolete and the need for them is not abating; in fact, it’s just the opposite.

Understanding the Available Options

At some point over the next several years, organizations that operate IP networks or supply Internet content, applications or services will build out their IPv6 networks consistent with their respective commercial and technical plans and objectives. But a migration to IPv6 is not without issues. For one, it’s expensive due in large part because IPv6 is not backwards compatible with IPv4. A migration to IPv6 requires significant upgrades to an organization’s IP network infrastructure, including the purchase, deployment and configuration of IPv6-compatible routers, switches and firewalls – all while still running an IPv4 stack that serves existing customers and partners who continue to use IPv4. A migration of this magnitude requires companies to allocate already stretched financial and technical resources from critical business activities — not cheap and possibly not practical or prudent for every organization right now.

ARIN’s IPv4 free pool exhaustion by itself should not pressure organizations to immediately change course.  The move to IPv6 will take time. According to network equipment giant Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) report, only a quarter of global internet content will be carried using the IPv6 protocol by 2019. While upgrading to IPv6 is something the market at-large will do eventually, IPv6 migration will happen gradually and for some will not happen for several years.

The FUD surrounding the exhaustion of the RIRs’ IPv4 address free pools has created the appearance of “artificial scarcity.”  There are, however, still a large number of addresses available through the secondary market for IPv4 addresses. Today, there are anywhere between 800 million to 1 billion potentially available IPv4 numbers in the IPv4 trading market.  This inventory could provide adequate supply for several years – allowing network operators (and their customers) ample time to develop and execute IPv6 deployment plans that are appropriate for their businesses.

The availability in the IPv4 market of this considerable supply of IPv4 numbers provides organizations with a viable choice to support their existing networks while the migration to IPv6 is underway. Organizations should feel confident in their ability to evaluate all their options before investing in significant capital expenditures that may not be in alignment with their overall business objectives.

Not a Drive Thru Experience – Expertise Required

While the secondary market contains a plentiful supply of IPv4 addresses, obtaining them today is not a straightforward retail experience. Transactions related to the purchase of available addresses are complex and require advisors that understand the nuances of doing these types of deals. When evaluating advisors, buyers should look for firms with deep domain expertise that have successfully navigated the challenges of brokering, structuring, negotiating and closing IPv4 transactions. One should also look for a trusted advisor with a history of representing mature enterprises and who possesses the skills required to match buyers with sellers to direct a successful transaction and facilitate registration transfers.

Data center operators and other potential customers in need of IPv4 numbers should look past the “exaggerated reports” declaring the end of IPv4, and should feel confident that there are plenty of options available to continue to secure the necessary IPv4 numbers to support and grow their legacy networks. Despite this availability, prudent organizations will enlist the help of experienced advisors capable of navigating the nuances of the current secondary IPv4 market.