Wyatt Kash | Expand support for IPv6
MANDATORY DEADLINES ' even unrealistic ones ' have a way of focusing energy and attention on federal priorities. That has been partially the case with the administration's goal of transitioning all federal agency network backbones to the next generation of IP, Version 6, by June 30.
It's too early to know how well those backbones will work come June.
Agencies at least have had more notice than usual, if not the resources many would have liked, to prepare. But as a new GCN subscriber poll of federal information technology managers suggests (see Page 20), a tremendous amount of work and training is still required if IT staffs are to deal with an IPv6 future that has all but arrived.
Much of the attention surrounding IPv6 has centered on the exponential increase in Internet addresses and how to use them. By expanding the length of Internet addresses from 32 bits to 128, IPv6 unleashes not only a nearly unlimited number of unique identifiers but also a whole new world of IT possibilities.
IPv6 will enable devices to multicast, for instance, sending information and establishing unique links to multiple devices at once without resending the same data to each device. That will make it easier, for example, to stream live video to multiple locations at once or for military or homeland security teams to create ad-hoc sensor networks on the fly.
IPv6 also addresses a variety of security problems inherent in IPv4.
However, getting this vast new world of interconnectivity to work with existing IPv4-based systems adds a daunting degree of complexity to normal IT operations. It also brings a host of new planning considerations that many agency officials have yet to grasp. And that's what worries many IT professionals in the federal trenches. It's been easier for agencies to relegate IPv6 development to rolling IT refresh cycles than to embrace its potential ' and give IT staffs the training and support they need.
Agency leaders would certainly help their IT teams by reviewing the latest recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, including 'A Profile for IPv6 in the U.S. Government' (GCN.com/943), issued last month.
The road to IPv6 has been and will remain a long one. But federal agencies have much to gain by embracing IPv6 sooner rather than later.
Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.