IP explained - well sort of...

The Internet is changing and growing at an enormous pace. By 2015 annual global traffic will reach a Zettabyte - but what is a Zettabyte?

You’ve all heard about Gigabytes (Gb) and you possibly know that 1000Gb is a Terabyte (Tb). Some of you will know 1000Tb is a Petabyte (Pb) and a few of you will know 1000 Petabytes is an Exabyte (Eb). But not many of you will know that 1000 Exabytes is a Zettabyte (Zb). Those words won’t mean a lot to most people so let me try and put that into context:

Our Galaxy is home to approximately 2 hundred billion stars.
If each individual star was a single byte, then we would need 5,000,000 (5 million) Milky Way Galaxies to reach 1 Petabyte of data and a thousand times that to make a Zetabyte.  Even those are a hard numbers to get your head round.

It wasn’t that long ago that we considered a Gigabyte as a large amount of data and now you carry around memory sticks that hold enough data for a library or 50+ movies. The average 2Gb eReader will hold up to 1,000 books before you add more memory.

By 2015 the majority of Internet traffic will be video which can come in various forms:

  • Live video calling: Skype, Googletalk, Windows Messenger, Facebook etc.
  • Video on demand: Netflix, Lovefilm, Directv, Blinkbox, iPlayer, and many others
  • Online videos:       YouTube, TED, WwiTV, Hulu, Vmeo, Metacafe to name a few
  • Ambient video:      That’s CCTV to you and me

It would take you over 5 years to watch the amount of video that will cross global networks every second in 2015. So - how will all these people be getting their choice of videos streamed directly to their devices?

This graph shows the increase in both fixed and mobile networks up to 2015. At first glance this graph seems to indicate that the use of mobile networks won’t grow that rapidly.  Look again but look a little closer. The increase in mobile network data is simply dwarfed by the massive expansion in fixed networks.

If the figure for mobile networks is isolated, the graph appears like this:

You can see that the graph follows a similar curve to that of fixed networks, indicating a huge year on year increase in mobile data usage and that figure is set to rocket as mobile internet connected devices are rolled out for more and more uses – not just for communication and entertainment but business and lifestyle use too.

What is driving the increased demand for bandwidth?

During 2008 the number of connections to the Internet exceeded the number of people on earth – there were 6.7bn people in 2008 and are now 7bn according to current statistics.

By 2020 it is estimated there will be 7.5bn people on this planet and 50bn connected devices. These will not just be Smartphones, tablets and other mobile real-time data-using devices that are now commonplace.

For example - I read an Infographic from Cisco that mentions a Dutch company deploying wireless sensors on cows to monitor their movement and health. These sensors transmit data back to the farmers allowing them to respond accordingly.

This information would generate around 200Mb per year per cow - which isn't a vast amount until you consider that there are over 1.4 billion cows in the world today.  If they all had these sensors that would be another 280Pb of data. That’s just cows! What about sheep and llamas? How many other things are likely to be connected and monitored in the years to come?

Not surprisingly, all of these connections are not just affecting demand for bandwidth but they also have an impact on the availability of IP addresses.
IPv4 gave us approx 4.3bn IP addresses. IPv4 address assignments for the global regions ran out during the second half of 2013 – the UK was reportedly down to it's last million in January 2012 and Europe is currently in it's last 14 million.

The state of the current allocations of IPv4 addresses can be found as a live counter on the right sidebar of this page as a visual reminder.

However the IPv6 protocol expands the number of possible IP addresses to an almost unimaginable number. This is over 340 undecillion addresses – if you wondered how many that is its 340 followed by 36 zeros! The actual number of possible IPv6 addresses for those that really want to know these things is:


Deploying IPv6 is not an event which will stop things working.  Initially, it will just prevent companies from expanding their networks due to the lack of availability of publicly routable IP addresses.

Now for a few "geeky" explanations...

IPv6 will deliver some technical benefits such as more efficient routing and enhanced security.
Some existing networks may not support IPv6 and will need their infrastructure hardware replacing or upgrading to cope.  Some IP enabled applications may need to be updated or replaced before the adoption of IPv6 in the Enterprise.

Planning is the key to staying competitive and needs to start now!

Some of the benefits of IPv6 include:

  • More Efficient Routing IPv6 reduces the size of routing tables and makes routing more efficient and hierarchical. IPv6 allows ISPs to aggregate the prefixes of their customers' networks into a single prefix and announce this one prefix to the IPv6 Internet. In addition, in IPv6 networks, fragmentation is handled by the source device rather than the router using a protocol for discovery of the path's maximum transmission unit size(MTU).
  • More Efficient Packet Processing IPv6's simplified packet header makes packet processing more efficient. Compared with IPv4, IPv6 contains no IP-level checksum, so the checksum does not need to be recalculated at every router hop. Getting rid of the IP-level checksum was possible because most link-layer technologies already contain checksum and error-control capabilities. In addition, most transport layers (which handle end-to-end connectivity) have a checksum that enables error detection.
  • Directed Data Flows IPv6 supports multicast rather than broadcast. Multicast allows bandwidth-intensive packet flows (like multimedia streams) to be sent to multiple destinations simultaneously saving network bandwidth. Disinterested hosts no longer have to process broadcast packets. In addition, the IPv6 header has a new field, named Flow Label that can identify packets belonging to the same flow.
  • Simplified Network Configuration Address auto-configuration (address assignment) is built in to IPv6. A router will send the prefix of the local link in its router advertisements. A host can generate its own IP address by appending its link-layer (MAC) address, converted into Extended Universal Identifier (EUI) 64-bit format, to the 64 bits of the local link prefix.
  • Support for New Services Eliminating the need for Network Address Translation (NAT) at the corporate boundary means true end-to-end connectivity at the IP layer is restored, enabling new and valuable services. Peer-to-peer networks are easier to create and maintain, and services such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and Quality of Service (QoS) become more robust.
  • Security IPSec, which provides confidentiality, authentication and data integrity, is built into in IPv6. Because of their potential to carry malware, IPv4 ICMP packets are often blocked by corporate firewalls, but ICMPv6, the implementation of the Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv6 may be permitted because IPSec can be applied to the ICMPv6 packets.

So - from securing the connection end-to-end to faster traffic and more bandwidth, reducing data bottlenecks and the TCO of network devices - the reasons to adopt IPv6 now are more compelling than ever. Now to convince the CTOs and the bean-counters....