IPv6: Let's focus on the positive

Voice over IP was a largely untried technology when the Education Department began looking at moving data, voice and video onto a single network in 2000, but network services director Peter Tseronis estimated it would pay for itself in 2.5 years.

The department began converging its network in 2002 and is about 70 percent through the process.

'We've already realized our ROI,' Tseronis said Wednesday at the Federal Information Assurance Conference being held at the University of Maryland. 'My telecom budget has dropped by $11 million.'

Now Education, along with the rest of government, is faced with moving to another untried technology by 2008: IP version 6. Quantifying the return on investment for IPv6 is more difficult than figuring it for VOIP, Tseronis said. But if administrators begin looking at ways to use IPv6 in their networks rather than grousing about making the transition they could build the business cases they need to get the funding for the move.

The Office of Management and Budget last year ordered agencies to convert their network backbones to the next generation of the Internet Protocols by June 2008. Don't worry about budget, OMB said. You can pay for it out of your normal technology refresh cycle as you replace old equipment with new, IPv6-ready products.

But that does not cover the cost of training and staffing for running the dual-stack networks that will be required to run both IPv4 and IPv6 on the same networks for the foreseeable future. And ironically, the OMB mandate is not sufficient justification for buying the equipment needed to meet the mandate.

What Tseronis did was begin tying the operational requirements for Education's seven lines of business to IPv6 capabilities to create a business case.

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

The end-to-end performance, peer-to-peer security, autoconfiguration, and multicast and collaboration features of IPv6 are expected to help the department with loan processing and monitoring, grants management, evaluation and policy, research, information dissemination, regulatory compliance and administrative functions.

In his talk Wednesday, Tseronis marshaled the standard arguments for moving to IPv6: It is the wave of the future, it offers improved functionality and security, and if the country does not make the move now it risks being left behind the rest of the world that is adopting the protocols and developing new applications for them.

But many federal IT administrators, adhering to the adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' are not convinced of the need or benefits for moving to IPv6. They are making the move grudgingly and often have few plans for how to use the new technology.

But finding uses for it could make their lives easier, even if quantifying returns is difficult.

During the upcoming International Education Week, the Education Department will be using its converged network to link students with astronauts on the International Space Station.

'We're going to have video communications in close-to-real-time with a four-second delay,' Tseronis said. 'That's something we weren't even thinking about two years ago.'

Having IPv6 on your network will not by itself solve an agency's problems, he 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 people to manage it. And this will cost money.

'We've got training vendors coming at us from here, there and everywhere,' Tseronis said.

With a good business plan, you can get the budget to afford that training.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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