Behaving more like a glacier than a hot technology, IPv6 has been everyone’s “sometime in the future” technology for years. The coming surge in IP-enabled, consumer-class devices (not just your cell phone but your fridge) was supposed to force the world to IPv6. But if a relatively new endeavor called “Kebab” takes off, IPv6 might, again, become less urgent.
While IPv6 introduces a slew of useful enhancements, such as integrated security, its raison d’etre is to expand the IP address space beyond the four octets that IPv4 offers.
What many thought to be a temporary workaround, network address translation (NAT), solved the problem for many years. NAT — resident usually in corporate firewalls or small office/home office/consumer broadband access routers — effectively multiplexes one real Internet IP address to let many users share the address simultaneously.
As part of this, it hides the internal address structure. Not only is this a security benefit but it lets corporate and home users duplicate IP addresses used elsewhere without causing connectivity problems externally.
For example, NAT is why it is OK that virtually every broadband router on earth is shipped with the (non-routable) IP address of 192.168.1.1 and networks keep on working. Nobody on the “outside” ever sees that address.
With end users initiating virtually all Internet access, it made NAT quite viable. The Web site only had to respond to whatever address had contacted it. There was no need for the Web to have to drill through the NAT firewall to initiate contact with a device.
NAT’s days were numbered, it was thought, when vendors talked about putting IP stacks in everything from handheld computers, phones, to kitchen appliances. Add to this the complication that, given the dearth of IP addresses, broadband connections typically are assigned these addresses dynamically. Translation: They can change randomly.
Enter IPv6. Well, not exactly. You can buy some products that support IPv6 but the world — the Internet — is still IPv4. Unfortunately, manufacturers were ready to move to IP-enabled trash compactors and didn’t want to wait. Enter Kebab.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. introduced this protocol — though it is more of a service — to allow external communication with devices inside the firewall. Eventually this will include the many consumer appliances that Matsushita sells under its Panasonic brand.
Specifically, what Kebab does is address the issue of “doubly dynamic” addresses (I just made up that phrase). Not only does the “real” public IP address of broadband users change — at various and random times — but the private IP address assigned to any device can change as well. An event as fundamental and common as a power failure could cause both to change.
Kebab calls for home systems to communicate with a central service (across the NAT firewall) to update both sets of addresses as they change. Thus, an owner wishing to communicate with a home appliance from afar could reference the device by name and Kebab would resolve the addresses.
While Kebab doesn’t magically increase the IPv4 address space, it does remove one of the biggest obstacles of IPv4 – the ever-changing addresses.
Since Kebab’s announcement last October, there’s been little news beyond the initial flurry. We are told that Matsushita is pursuing licensing Kebab to others. While its success at doing so won’t stop IPv6, it could make it a “nice to have” rather than a “must have” for many next-generation apps.
Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Boca Raton, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.