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A Short History Lesson Of The Internet

World IPv6 Launch, now only a few weeks away on 6th June, marks a significant milestone in the history of the Internet. The landmark day follows the great success of World IPv6 Day in June of last year, where organisations from around the world offered their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour period.

While IPv6 is nothing new, to understand just what it means for the Internet today, it is important to understand just how we got here and what needs to happen for the Internet to continue its phenomenal growth.

For two decades, Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) - with the RIPE NCC being the first - have been responsible for the effective and fair management of IP addresses. Ultimately, each RIR is responsible for ensuring a fair distribution of resources and maintaining accurate registration data in its region.

This is a far cry from the early days of the Internet. Early adopters, mainly educational institutes looking to create distributed academic networks, were allocated many more addresses than they would under subsequent allocation policies that accompanied the emergence of the RIR system. The allocation principles that existed before the RIRs reflected certain technological constraints of the time, and assumptions about the limited function and future of the Internet itself.

Following the creation of the World Wide Web, it was soon evident that there was a need for a framework that could both meet the unprecedented demand for IP addresses and that could service wide a variety of different regional needs. In 1992, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) recommended that IP addresses be managed by subsidiary organisations working at regional levels.

This led to the creation of regional bodies that could more efficiently and effectively oversee, administer and manage the fair allocation of IP addresses. With the establishment of the RIPE NCC in 1992 and the subsequent emergence of APNIC (1992), ARIN (1998), LACNIC (2002) and AfriNIC (2004), the RIR system as we know it today was created.

The RIR system is widely recognised as a key solution that has prolonged the lifetime of the IPv4 address pool far beyond what would have been possible prior to the existence of the RIRs. Today, the number of Internet enabled devices already surpasses the population of the planet (seven billion) and is set to explode in the next three years to over 15 billion by 2015. Just about everything will have the potential to be connected to the internet from Cyber Cows (tagged cows), Smart Meters and wheelie bins (for councils to monitor rubbish levels).

The landmark launch of IPv6, which allows for an almost infinite number of IP addresses (340 trillion trillion trillion to be exact), comes just as the RIPE NCC celebrates its 20th anniversary and 8,000th member. To mark this, over the next few weeks I will provide a brief account of the journey from IPv4 to IPv6. Watch this space!