IPv6-capable? That depends on your definition of 'capable'

The first step in the Defense Department's policy of moving its IT systems to Version 6 of the Internet Protocols was to begin purchasing only IPv6-capable products by October 2003.

It turns out that this is easier said than done.

'One of the problems is that we have to define what 'IPv6-capable' is,' said John Shipp, the Army's director of technical architecture, applications, operations and space. 'We're trying to define what it is within DOD, and we're sending out a request for information to have you help us define it,' Shipp told an audience at the Coalition Summit for IPv6 in Reston, Va.

No date has been set for releasing the RFI, which also will seek information on the status and future plans for vendors' IPv6-enabled products.

The IPv6 summit has drawn participants from throughout U.S. government and from key allies such as Japan, Korea, NATO and the European Union, whose systems will have to mesh with those of the DOD.

Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle said that because the military is focusing its IT acquisitions on commercial products, the department depends on industry to provide the IPv6 equipment it needs. 'The department does not drive the market today,' he said.

But vendors told a different story. Rod Murchison, senior director of product management for Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said his company has a strategic objective of embedding IPv6 support in its entire product line. This has been largely the result of government demand.

'We have seen that as a key driver here, along with business we are doing in Asia and in Europe,' Murchison said.

Despite the demands being made at high levels inside DOD, a survey commissioned by Juniper showed little awareness elsewhere in the country of the new protocols.

'There is a very low level of interest in IPv6,' both in the government and private sectors, he said. Despite the leadership being taken by DOD, government respondents had even less awareness of IPv6 than their private sector counterparts and have done less planning.

These findings also were reflected in study released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office that found a majority of agencies had not begun planning for a transition to IPv6 [see GCN story].

Alan Sekelsky, director of IP engineering at SI International Inc. of Reston, which supports the DOD IPv6 transition office, said industry is depending on the DOD specifications for IPv6 capabilty. His company is helping define the specifications, which reference existing standards for many functions.

Sekelsky said the specifications must be specific enough to guide product development, but flexible enough to accommodate the evolving nature of the IPv6 protocols. Not all functions and services required in the specifications will be immediately available in all products, and complete parity with IPv4 functionality cannot be required at this time.

Although the DOD switch to IPv6 is scheduled to begin in 2008, Shipp said parity with IPv4 functionality will not be required until the department begins cutting over to native IPv6 networks in the second phase of its transition, scheduled for 2010 to 2013. By 2013, the department expects to begin deactivating IPv4 segments of its networks, although islands of IPv4 are expected to remain for years after that.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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