Critics say agencies are behind the curve on IP v.6

'DOD is fully committed to moving to IP v.6 as soon as we can.'

'Acting CIO Linton Wells

Rick Steele

The United States runs the risk of becoming isolated economically, politically and technologically if it falls behind the rest of the world in moving to the next generation of Internet protocols, warns Alex Lightman, chairman of the U.S. IP v.6 Summit.

Lightman is one of the nation's most vocal IP v.6 evangelists, but government officials are beginning to share his concern.

'A majority of agencies have not begun to grapple with the challenges of IP v.6 in any meaningful manner,' Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said during the opening keynote at the Coalition Summit for IP v.6 held last month in Reston, Va.

Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he would hold hearings on how to push the federal government to the new protocols. He said implementing IP v.6 is necessary for maintaining U.S. technological and economic leadership, and for improving national security. He said the Office of Management and Budget should take a leadership role in shepherding agencies to the new protocols.

More than 500 networking experts from the United States and allied governments, industry and academia attended the three-day summit to discuss challenges, opportunities and strategies for making the transition to Version 6 of the Internet Protocols.

'IP v.6 sounds good, but it has been accepted at about the same level as the metric system,' said Bill Kine, a product manager for Spirent Communications Inc. of Calabasas, Calif.

Old, but not broken

The Internet Protocols are the set of rules defining how computers communicate with each other. Most hardware and software today use IP Version 4, which has been around for about 30 years. Although IP v.4 is not broken, the unanticipated growth of the Internet has outstripped the functionality built into the protocols.

The Internet community began developing Version 6 in the early 1990s, including a greatly expanded address space and added support for mobility and security. This will make end-to-end connectivity simpler and enable a host of applications now complicated by clumsy workarounds needed with IP v.4.

Despite the potential advantages of the new protocols, IT officials in the United States have not built a business case for moving to the new protocols, said Charles Lynch, director of the Defense Department's IP v.6 Transition Office. DOD has announced plans to begin mi- grating its Global Information Grid network to IP v.6 by 2008, the first agency to make such a commitment.

'IP v.6 is not the next step in the Internet, it's a completely new In- ternet,' Lynch said. 'Many people are pushing forward and implementing IP v.6 on the architecture they already have. IP v.6 requires a new infrastructure.'

If administrators do not understand why they are moving to IP v.6, 'they'll end up with a new IP v.4 network and not get the full benefits,' he said.

The enhanced 128-bit address space of IP v.6 will not only allow more addresses for individual devices but will also let each device be pinpointed geographically to enable location-based services. The protocols also will allow authentication of the origin of packets, eliminating the trust problem that contributes to the current insecurity of the Internet. An IP v.6 network can also be more easily managed.

Despite the potential benefits, a survey by Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., showed a general lack of awareness of IP v.6 in both the U.S. government and private sectors.

Government respondents were even more out of the loop than their private-sector counterparts. Only 54 percent in government were even aware of IP v.6, compared with 69 percent in the private sector; and only 7 percent in government reported having a transition plan, compared with 10 percent on the commercial side.

These findings were bolstered by a study released May 24 by the Government Accountability Office, which found that almost no agencies had begun planning for a transition to IP v.6.

'I was a little surprised by that,' said Rod Murchison, senior director of product management for Juniper.

Juniper has a business interest in seeing IP v.6 adopted. 'We have made significant investments in IP v.6 and have been getting ready for some time,' Murchison said. 'We're finally coming out with production-quality equipment.'

The company's survey showed that lack of funds and an inability to build a business case were the major challenges to adopting IP v.6. Murchison said he hoped the DOD example would spur interest in the new protocols as benefits begin to materialize.

Even in Europe and the Pacific Rim, which have larger investments in the new protocols, IP v.6 networks still are quite small, usually no more than pilot projects and test beds.

'IP v.6 real-world experience is really quite limited,' Kine said.

One of the reasons is that IP v.6 still is under development and product specifications are evolving. The 'IP v.6 compliant' label is common on networking hardware and software, but it still means little.

No date has been set for releasing the RFI.

Although DOD expects to begin its transition in 2008, ongoing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan could push back the timetable, DOD acting CIO Linton Wells said at the summit.

DOD timetable could slip

'DOD is fully committed to moving to IP v.6 as soon as we can,' Wells said. But, 'we will not impair our operational capability during the transition.'

Lynch is confident that de- mand for the technology will come'eventually.

'There is a tremendous amount of money being spent in the United States on Version 6,' he said.
Comparisons to other parts of the world, such as China and South Korea, where IP v.6 is advancing more quickly, are not necessarily valid, Lynch said, because the U.S. does not have a centralized economy.

'I believe in the power of market forces,' he said. 'As soon as the demand is there, the vendors are ready to roll.'

But Lightman said more government leadership is needed to get the ball rolling.

'There is not a country in the world where IP v.6 is happening just because industry is doing it,' he said, adding that the current administration had not shown leadership on IP v.6. 'There is a lack of focused firepower. It's one of America's blind spots.'

Lightman said the point man should be in the Executive Office of the President, where he can set policy for government and act as a resource for the private sector.
The stakes as described by Lightman are high. As new products and services are developed to take advantage of IP v.6, a handful of emerging IP v.6 powers such as China and South Korea will be able to dominate those markets, undercutting U.S. influence.
'China has decided they are going to be the leaders in the new Internet,' Lightman said.

Lightman's choice for IP v.6 champion is Charles Lynch, head of the DOD transition.

'I think he's clearly the person to do it,' Lightman said. 'He already has a background in it, and he's shown he can work with people.'

Lynch prefers an advisory rather than a prescriptive ap- proach to moving the nation toward IP v.6. But he does have some advice, based on DOD's experience, for anyone contemplating a move to the new protocols.

'The first thing we learned was that transitioning a network or routing technology is not a difficult thing,' he said. 'It is the integration and interoperation between all the elements that will transition at different paces that is difficult.'

Different elements within an enterprise will move at different speeds. Some will be all-IP v.6, some all-IP v.4, and some will operate as both. But all will have to communicate with each other. This can be done, he said, but it requires careful planning. During the period of co-existence, clumsy technologies such as dual-stack networks, tunneling and protocol translation will be needed to accommodate both sets of protocols.

Beyond 2013

DOD does not expect to begin decommissioning IP v.4 systems until 2013, and some pockets of IP v.4 are expected to remain for years after that.

And don't bother trying to solve the chicken-and-egg riddle of which comes first, the infrastructure or the applications.

'You have to do both simultaneously,' Lynch said. Have IP v.6 applications ready to go as soon as the infrastructure is in place, so the enterprise can start realizing advantages as soon as possible.

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