Agency IT plans could hinge on IPv6 implementation

As IPv4 addresses run out, compatibility with the new protocol will be key for Web-facing servers

The White House announced last month that almost 300 new datasets have been put online at as part of the president’s Open Government Initiative. However, as the amount of data on IPv4-enabled government servers grows, the pool of available IPv4 addresses is drying up.

During the next few years, government efforts to make greater use of the Internet will run up against an Internet in which growth is dominated by incompatible IPv6 addresses.

“ and cloud computing are still the headline grabbers,” said Peter Tseronis, chairman of the CIO Council’s IPv6 Working Group. But those initiatives require the access and capabilities that the next generation of IP will provide. “The administration needs to take a stand on this. You can’t be talking about cloud computing without talking about the state of the Internet, and that means IPv6.”

In May 2009, the CIO Council released a “Planning Guide/Roadmap toward IPv6 Adoption within the U.S. Government.” “It should be recognized that by the end of 2011, there will be new clients and servers on the Internet which have no choice but to only have an IPv6 address,” the road map states. “For the rest of the Internet to be able to communicate with them, they should then be able to serve to IPv6 customers and access IPv6 servers.”

That means the government’s Internet-facing servers and almost all devices should be able to use IPv6, the road map states. Nonpublic facing networks that do not rely on carrier transport across the Internet core can afford to migrate to IPv6 through a more gradual tech refresh.

Although agencies rushed to meet a requirement to make their core networks IPv6 capable by June 2008, little has been done since to enable the new IP. The United States lags behind foreign initiatives, such as China’s Next Generation Internet five-year plan and the European Commission’s i2010 initiative to deploy IPv6 widely in Europe this year.

“Action is needed by the U.S. government in order to retain our nation’s technical and market leadership in the Internet sector and to expand and improve services for America’s citizens,” the road map states.

The urgency of the situation was underscored by the announcement in January by the Number Resource Organization, which oversees global allocation of IP addresses, that less than 10 percent of the available IPv4 address space remains unassigned. IPv4 addresses have been in use for more than 30 years and are able to accommodate about 4 billion addressed devices. But the rate at which they are being assigned is speeding up. As of September 2007, 80 percent of IPv4 were addresses assigned. At present rates, the available pool is expected to be used up in less than 600 days.

The depletion of addresses does not mean that the Internet will cease to work. But as future growth occurs in the IPv6 address space, the Internet could be divided into old and new versions, interoperable only through translation gateways that create bottlenecks for ever-increasing amounts of traffic. To avoid this scenario, the government is gradually making IPv6 use its policy. An IPv6 government profile for products has been developed, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation now requires agencies to specify the profile when acquiring IP-enabled equipment. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing a testing program to certify that IPv6 products meet this profile.

But more work remains, said Tseronis, who is deputy associate chief information officer at the Energy Department. According to the road map, agencies should already have included concrete plans for deploying critical IPv6-enabled network services in their strategic architecture plans and have created business cases for those services. They should now be deploying IPv6-enabled services.

“This is not a sprint, it is truly a marathon,” Tseronis said. It is not enough for a CIO to have a network that works now. “If you are a CIO, finding out how you can take advantage of the new Internet is your job.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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