SSA's upgrade paves way for IPv6

Down the stretch

Agency progress toward preparing network backbones for IPv6 has generally been considered to be good. However, even two months ago not many agency information technology officials were confident of meeting the June 30 deadline. At the FOSE trade show in Washington in April, ScienceLogic surveyed 107 high-level federal officials on a variety of subjects, including agency transition to IPv6. Among the results:

6% said their agencies were prepared for IPv6

22% expected to meet the June 30 deadline

33% said their agencies would not meet the deadline

39% weren't sure

Agencies have until June 30 to meet the Office of Management and Budget's mandate to get their network backbones ready to handle IPv6 traffic. The Social Security Administration achieved that goal six months ago.

'We did a demonstration of our ability on Dec. 10,' said Rick Terzigni, senior adviser at the agency's Office of Telecommunications and Systems Operations. 'We're done as far as showing the capability.'

For SSA, accommodating the next generation of IP was not so much a revolution as an evolution enabled by a major network upgrade begun early in the decade.

'We got there because of the convergence of voice, data and video,' Terzigni said. SSANet is a centrally managed Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network linking about 1,800 agency sites nationwide. As a result of the upgrade, the hardware to handle IPv6 traffic was in place early. The agency also acted early to acquire IPv6 address space and joined the North American IPv6 Task Force and Moonv6 test bed network, a collaboration of the task force with the Defense Department's Joint Interoperability Test Command and the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory.

The agency decided on a dual-stack architecture that would handle versions 4 and 6 of the protocols to avoid interruption of operations. 'That will allow us to keep on running our mission-critical applications' as new applications are developed, Terzigni said.

The network became something of a test bed for vendors and service providers, including network carriers AT&T and Verizon and equipment companies Cisco Systems, CA, IBM and Juniper Networks.

Fine-tuning equipment and software for SSA enabled vendors to put their products through their paces and ensure that they were IPv6-ready.

SSA built an isolated lab, dubbed System Zero, connected to the MPLS network core via a virtual private network and used it to perform tests with the Moonv6 network and SSANet's carriers.

Cisco is putting the experience to use to develop IPv6 transition guides and tools and is providing consultants to federal agencies for meeting the OMB mandate. The main message from Cisco is one of caution, said Dave West, global IPv6 leader at the company.

'We are trying to advise customers not to rush to IPv6 if they are not prepared,' West said. 'It should be a smart, methodical, proactive integration' that does not threaten day-to-day operations. 'It is easy to get to the bare-bones minimum' required by OMB, he added. 'But if you are only ready for the barebones, you haven't thought it out.'

West said he expects most, if not all, agencies to meet the OMB deadline. 'I think they will all be able to get over the June 30 bar.' However, most also are looking beyond that deadline to how they will use IPv6 in their networks. 'They seem very open and want to see how it is going to benefit them.'

But it probably will be awhile before IPv6 applications go into production on the networks, even at forward-thinking agencies such as SSA. In the first place, IPv4 is not going to disappear anytime soon, and SSANet will be dual-stack for some time.

'Our projections are 2025 or later before all IPv4 will go away,' Terzigni said.

Putting IPv6 applications to work for more than a few network management tools will require extending the capability from the backbone into the enterprise and eventually to the desktop, which will require a few more budget cycles.

'Unless we get a big influx of money, we won't see end-to-end IPv6 connectivity until 2011,' Terzigni said. 'We don't have any active IPv6 applications to date. We have a couple on our radar screens that we are researching.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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