Will agencies 'dance with the Ewoks' on IPv6?

Deadlines are set, but operational challenges loom

One challenge for agencies in 2011 is preparing their networks for the use of IPv6, the next generation of Internet protocols.

There are a host of practical reasons why agencies should do so, but the one that matters for government is that the Office of Management and Budget has said it shall be done. Agencies have until Sept. 30, 2012, to “upgrade public-external facing servers and services to operationally use native IPv6” and two more years to enable it on internal applications.

To meet those deadlines, agencies will need to stop thinking about the IPv6 transition as a stand-alone issue and start considering it as a part of all Internet programs and projects. There no longer is an IPv4 and an IPv6; there is just the Internet.

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The successful transition will require the efforts of not only CIOs but also chief financial officers, procurement officers, contractors and providers of network services, said Peter Tseronis, chairman of the CIO Council’s IPv6 Task Force.

The task force has been meeting with agency transition teams since November to assess readiness, identify challenges and share expertise. Help is available from the task force, contractors and outside sources, such as ARIN, the regional Internet registry that oversees IP addresses for North America. But “the onus is on the agencies, the carriers and the service providers to make it happen,” Tseronis said.

The move to IPv6 is being compared to Y2K, the global effort to resolve date-coding problems in the IT infrastructure with the approach of a new century in 2000.

“Is this Y2K all over again?” asked Andrew McLaughlin, former deputy federal chief technology officer. Yes and no, he implied. Hopefully it will be similar in that public and private organizations will cooperate to complete necessary changes in time. But unlike Y2K, in which the desired outcome was that nothing would happen, the shift to IPv6 should result in improvements in the infrastructure.

“This is not simply a matter of replacing a 32-bit address string with a 128-bit string,” McLaughlin said, speaking at an event in December, when he was still CTO, hosted by the Associated for Federal Information Resource Management. The new protocols will enable the continued growth of the Internet and expansion of online services, and they also will provide increased transparency, better end-to-end connectivity, more flexibility and improved security.

But we have a way to go before reaching that point. Using a “Star Wars” analogy, McLaughlin described the status of the transition as “somewhere after the Battle of Hoth,” a major Galactic Empire victory in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” the middle of the original trilogy.

But, he said, we are headed toward the final destruction of the Death Star in Episode VI. “And we will all dance with the Ewoks."

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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