Agencies coming to terms with IPv6

Officials learning to love'or at least appreciate'new Internet protocol

June 30, 2008, is really just the beginning. This will be a transition that will take many years.' Peter Tseronis, Federal IPv6 Working Group

Rick Steele

The transition of government networks to the next-generation Internet Protocol has gained traction over the last year, according to a recent survey of government and industry officials.

Almost half of the respondents from civilian agencies and nearly two-thirds of those in the Defense Department said that IPv6 is important in supporting their IT goals. Money for the transition is slowly moving into the funding pipeline. Federal spending on IPv6-enabled products and services is expected to hit $27 billion this year, climbing to $60 billion by 2011.

'A year ago, we were looking at a community that had no understanding of the value of IPv6 and had no plans in place,' said Charles L. Lynch, senior partner with SynExi LLC of Clifton, Va., who headed DOD's IPv6 transition office until early 2006.

This year, 25 percent of civilian offices have a written plan for moving to IPv6, as do 34 percent of DOD offices.

The survey of 1,076 federal, state, local and industry workers was conducted by SynExi and Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. It follows a survey conducted last year by Juniper in the wake of the 2005 mandate from the Office of Management and Budget for civilian agencies to move to IPv6.

Ambitious objective

OMB set an ambitious but limited initial objective of enabling core networks for IPv6 by June 2008, a move that DOD had begun two years earlier. The focus in the first year of the project has been upgrading equipment through routine technology refreshes, without additional funding.

'This is a clear indication of the success of what OMB has done so far,' SynExi senior partner Dale Geesey said of the most recent survey results.

As would be expected, DOD leads the civilian agencies in planning, training and budgeting'though civilian agencies are gaining ground.

Surprisingly, state and local governments also are beginning the shift to IPv6, with 46 percent of state and local respondents reporting that they have begun planning and requested budget for the move.

They estimated that 36 percent of their current IT infrastructure is IPv6-capable'a
percentage slightly above civilian federal agencies'and consider that figure likely to reach 48 percent within two years.

'There is no mandate driving them,' Geesey said. 'You would expect the states to be further behind than they are.'

Driving the states is the need to future-proof their networks, improve security and ensure interoperability with federal networks. These are the same benefits federal agencies hope to realize from their transition.

Although initial network upgrades were to be done through routine tech refresh, 18 percent of civilian respondents reported they have received specific IPv6 funding, and 39 percent said they have included it in their budget requests. Within DOD, 20 percent said they now have funding, and 51 percent are requesting it.

Budget is the number-one concern of federal administrators in making the transition. Last year, the lack of a compelling reason to move to IPv6 was listed as the main concern. That dropped to number three this year as administrators begin to think about how they can use the new protocols in their enterprises.

IPv6 features

For years, one of the big selling points for IPv6 was that the expanded address space would ease the shortage of IP addresses that is beginning to be felt under IPv4. That argument has left many administrators in North America, which secured the lion's share of IPv4 addresses early in the Internet game, cold. But they are beginning to think about how IPv6 features such as end-to-end performance, peer-to-peer security, auto configuration and improved collaboration can be used in executing missions.

This shift in concerns makes sense, according to Peter Tseronis, network services director for the Education Department. Tseronis, who also is co-chair of the Federal IPv6 Working Group, said during a recent Federal Information Assurance Conference that finding uses for IPv6 can make it easier to build the business case to get funding.

At Education, IPv6 capabilities were tied to the department's seven lines of business (loan processing and monitoring, grants management, evaluation and policy, research, information dissemination, regulatory compliance and administrative functions) to build a business case for IPv6.

'We've got a tech refresh plan, and we've got budget set aside,' Tseronis said.

Despite shifting attitudes, not everyone is buying into the need to move to IPv6.

'There are a lot of nay-sayers out there in the federal space,' Tseronis said. They adhere to the adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But IPv6 is not necessarily about fixing what's broken, it's 'all about more opportunity.'

Having IPv6 on your network is not by itself going to solve an agency's problems, Tseronis acknowledged.

'It's not a panacea,' he said. 'At the end of the day, nothing is foolproof.' Making it work securely and efficiently will require the right policies and training for the people who will manage it.

Some leadership also would help, and three-quarters of those responding to the survey supported the idea of a federal IPv6 transition office to spearhead the effort. The office could standardize and coordinate transition efforts, both across agencies and between federal and state and local governments, and define IPv6 milestones beyond the 2008 deadline.

'June 30, 2008, is really just the beginning,' Tseronis said. 'This will be a transition that will take many years.'

Transition office

So far, the federal government has not shown any indication of standing up a transition office, and there is no clear vision of how it would work.

The civilian side of government drew heavily on the expertise of DOD's transition office. But beyond guidelines issued by OMB and technical specifications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, there is no single point of contact or source of information to drive the program across government.

One approach would be for the White House to set up an office that would operate with congressional oversight, something like the Y2K office set up to handle the data conversion issue for the year 2000. Or Congress could set up an office within an existing department, but staffed and funded cooperatively through several departments.

'What people don't want is one single department taking charge of it,' Lynch said. n

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