CIO Council shepherds agencies through IPv6 transitions

Task force begins meetings to provide guidance

The Federal IPv6 Task Force will begin meetings with agencies on Nov. 15 to help guide them through the transition to the next generation of Internet Protocols, task force chairman Peter Tseronis said.

The task force, formerly the IPv6 Working Group, is the point organization for the adoption of IPv6 over the next four years, which has been mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. It has been working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to define the terms and requirements of the OMB memo and will hold meetings with transition managers from four agencies each week through January to assess current levels of preparedness and help chart courses forward.

Agencies already are required to buy IPv6-ready networking equipment and services, but Tseronis, speaking at a conference hosted in Washington by the Digital Government Institute, stressed that compliance with the mandate does not end with an RFP.

“There is no funding allocated to agencies to upgrade to IPv6,” he said.

Agencies must integrate the new protocols into their IT and business plans. “You need to know what you want to use it for," he said.

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OMB released guidelines and milestones in September for the transition of government networks to IPv6, with deadlines for implementing the protocols on public facing systems and internal networks. Public facing servers and services must be able to operationally use native IPv6 by the end of fiscal 2012 and internal client applications must be upgraded by the end of fiscal 2014. Agencies also were required to designate transition managers to serve as liaisons.

“The Federal IPv6 Task Force will meet with agencies to explain the government’s IPv6 direction and to share best practices,” the memo said. The meetings will begin Monday with the departments of Energy, Treasury, Interior and the National Archives and Records Administration.

Terms such as “public-external facing servers and services” are not explicitly defined in the memo, and that is one of the things the task force has been working on to provide guidance to agencies. Those definitions have not yet been released but Tseronis said that as a general rule, visitors to a website should get the same information, no matter whether whether the viewer is using IPv4 or IPv6.

The transition is being forced by the impending exhaustion of addresses under the current IPv4 scheme. John Curran, president of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, one of five regional Internet registries that dole out IP addresses, said that the pool of available IPv4 addresses now is down to less than 5 percent of the original 4.3 billion. The pool is expected to dry up globally as early as next May.

The regional registries each have about a six-month supply of unallocated addresses, he said. “Sometime in 2011, ARIN is going to run out of IPv4 addresses,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

Because network carriers, service providers and other organizations that assign the addresses to their end users already have blocks of address allocated to them, the depletion will not affect everyone at the same time. Relative newcomers to the Internet, such as Europe and Asia, are likely to feel the pinch first.

“The United States was the first hog at the trough, so we’re not going to feel the pain for a while,” said John Baird, transition manager for the Defense Department’s Defense Research and Engineering Network.

But shortages already are appearing. A Labor Department employee said that the department requested from Verizon, its Networx vendor, three Class C IPv4 address blocks containing a little more than 500,000 addresses each, but was able to get only one block.

Increasingly, large address allocation will have to be made from the larger IPv6 address space. Because the two versions are not compatible, to keep the Internet from becoming fragmented existing resources either will have to be enabled for IPv6 or some form of translation will have to be used. Although translation from one protocol to another at a gateway would allow an IPv6 user to access IPv4 content, and vice versa, it would create chokepoints as the volume of IPv6 traffic grows, Curran said.

“It doesn’t scale and we don’t know how well it works,” he said. For this reason, dual stack systems—systems enabled to work with both IP versions—will continue to be necessary on the Internet for decades.

IPv6 has been operational and addresses for it have been available since 1999, but the transition so far has been slow. Although IPv6 has some improvements over the current protocols, which forward-thinking enterprises such as the DOD are planning to take advantage of, it is the scarcity of IPv4 address that is driving adoption now.

“IPv6 has some nice features built in, but these features don’t drive deployment by themselves,” Curran said.

“The killer app for IPv6 is business continuity,” Tseronis said. Without it, current networks risk becoming obsolete when IPv6 traffic takes off.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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