IPv6: Don't get left on the platform

Agencies may face brain drain if they delay transition

The Education Department's Peter Tseronis, left, and the Commerce Department's John McManus, right, warn that tech-savvy employees will jump to agencies that are ahead of the curve on IPv6.

Rick Steele

Federal agencies that dawdle during the IPv6 transition risk losing tech-savvy system administrators who will defect to organizations with fresher technology, advocates for the Web upgrade say.

'System administrators in the agencies are going to look around and notice whether their own organization [is adopting IPv6], and how quickly other agencies are doing the same thing,' said John W. McManus, the Commerce Department's deputy CIO, at the FOSE trade show last month.

'They're going to see old technology over here [in their own agency] and new technology over there [and jump to the more sophisticated job],' McManus said.
McManus and his fellow co-chair of the Federal IPv6 Transition Working Group, Peter Tseronis, the Education Department's network services director, described the choices agencies face as they implement the Office of Management and the Budget's 2005 directive that requires core networks in federal agencies to handle IPv6 packets by June 2008.

IPv6 transition plans are at various stages of maturity. Up to 70 percent of agencies have either adopted IPv6 or made progress (GCN.com/746). Laggard agencies increasingly will feel the ground under them shift.

For example, McManus said, federal system administrators may not be IPv6-ready, but vendors already are developing software applications that use the standard. 'There probably has been more IPv6 testing in the hacker community than in the federal government,' McManus said.

Meanwhile, tools that managers can use in the IPv6 transition are coming to maturity, according to McManus and Tseronis. They cited work by the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council to develop acquisition guidelines for IPv6 readiness.

Good guidance

OMB already has provided feedback to federal agencies on their transition plans, and in a format that offered useful comments rather than a simple graded ranking, they said.

Along the same lines, McManus and Tseronis discussed the pending release of an IPv6 training framework, due in May. They also cited the National Institute of Standards and Technology's work on Special Publication 500-267, now in draft form, titled A Profile of IPv6 in the Federal Government, Version 1.0.

'The agencies that I talked to that are most successful are not look at IPv6 [adoption] as a single event, but as an evolution of their network,' McManus said.
The transition away from the 30-year-old IPv4 standard to the 12-year-old IPv6 standard, with its vastly increased number of addresses and integral, end-to-end security, is being helped along by an incoming cadre of tech-savvy federal workers, Tseronis said.

Tseronis noted that students at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., have been using IPv6 for years.
To keep up with that pace, federal IT managers should budget the funds to comply with OMB's IPv6 transition requirement, plan for the development of their network over the next three to five years, and prepare for the various capabilities the standard offers, such as 'mobiquity,' or enhanced mobile connectivity, Tseronis said.

'Thirty years ago, 4.1 billion address [provided by IPv6] were considered a lot,' Tseronis said.

Now, with prospects for developments such as the Pentagon assigning IP addresses to individual bullets to keep track of its inventories, IPv4 address shortage workarounds that have succeeded so far increasingly will create problems, according to McManus and Tseronis.

Up until now, a relatively small group of federal agencies have formed a group of 'ostriches with their heads in the sand,' not making preparations for the IPv6 transition, McManus said.

'But now, I see that even the ostriches are popping their heads out of the sand,' McManus said.

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