For the last year, it's been all quiet on the IPv6 front in the United States. But now the U.S. government is making noise about this next-generation Internet technology, as it forges ahead with plans to deploy secure, IPv6-enabled network services.
In June 2008, all federal agencies met an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) deadline to demonstrate that their backbone networks were IPv6 capable.
A few weeks ago, the Federal CIO Council issued a road map that disclosed the next steps agencies should be taking toward IPv6 deployment.
The road map says every federal CIO should develop a business case for IPv6 and integrate IPv6 into their agency's enterprise architecture and capital investment plans.
"Like other areas of strategic investment which lead to new levels of productivity, greater mission successes and citizen access to government, IPv6 integration must be prioritized at the agency level and executed in a well planned, phased approach with success criteria measurements and alignment with other key government [IT] initiatives," the report states.
Pete Tseronis, Federal IPv6 Working Group Chair and Deputy Associate CIO of the Department of Energy, says the road map is designed to keep federal CIOs, enterprise architects and policymakers focused on investing in Internet infrastructure. Tseronis helped develop the road map.
"We can't keep operating in an IPv4 world when we're talking about sensor networks, wireless communications and mobile networks," Tseronis says. "We need more IP addresses – globally unique IP addresses — and that's what IPv6 provides…We need a target network architecture that's scalable, secure and stable."
The road map says federal CIOs need to develop concrete plans to deploy IPv6 and that they will be required to provide quarterly progress reports that include IPv6 to OMB.
"For those who may think that IPv6 is on ice, it's anything but," Tseronis says. He adds that in order for an agency to receive a green light from OMB on its enterprise architecture, it will need a strategy for deploying secure IPv6-enabled network services followed by IPv6-enabled applications.
"Agencies are being assessed on their progression towards IPv6," Tseronis says. "Agencies are on the hook to deploy IPv6."
IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4. IPv4 uses 32-bit IP addresses, which means it can support only 4.3 billion individually addressable devices on the Internet. In contrast, IPv6 uses 128-bit IP addresses to support an almost-limitless number of individually addressable devices. IPv6 also includes built-in IP security mechanisms, easier network configuration and enhanced support for mobile devices.
The U.S. government's pro-IPv6 report is coming out at a time when few carriers or network equipment vendors are talking about next-generation Internet technology. Because of a weak global economy, the issues of Internet scaling and enabling new services have taken a backseat to cutting costs, ekeing out profits and surviving the downturn.
"From the enterprise space, we're seeing very, very little activity around IPv6," says Maria Fire, product manager for Alcatel-Lucent's VitalQIP, an IPv6-enabled IP address management (IPAM) tool.
Fire says she recently gave a presentation to 65 VitalQIP customers in the United States, and none of them were migrating to IPv6.
"It's a question of who can afford to replace their existing infrastructure with IPv6-capable stuff," Fire says. "We're really not seeing a whole lot of new trends in IPv6. Interest is very, very minimal in terms of enterprises. There's a little bit of interest in higher education and a little bit of interest on the carrier side."
The U.S. federal government, however, is focused on migrating to IPv6 because of the anticipated depletion of IPv4 addresses in 2012.
The road map is a "very, very good document," says Yanick Pouffary, an IPv6 Forum Fellow and Technology Director of the North American IPv6 Task Force. "Basically, they’re putting a framework around what it means for agencies to use IPv6 and to deploy it. It's not a question of if IPv6 gets deployed; it's how IPv6 will get deployed. It gives guidance to CIOs, chief architects or other individuals who are responsible for IT so they can plan for IPv6 and understand how IPv6 fits in the vision of their agency."
Pouffary, who contributed to the road map, says the document shows that the U.S. federal government is "very serious" about IPv6 deployment.
According to the new road map, federal CIOs see IPv6 as "an integrating framework and organizing principal for the next generation of federal IT infrastructure."
Tseronis says having an IPv6-enabled infrastructure will be required for agencies to support social networking services that are a priority of the Obama administration.
"The agency infrastructure--both internal to the data center and external to the service provider community--needs to be primed and ready for next-generation Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0 services," Tseronis says. "IPv6 is the Internet protocol that we're going to need to leverage for that."
The road map identifies two other drivers for federal agencies to deploy IPv6: cloud computing and peer-to-peer applications.
The road map predicts that by the end of 2011, there will be clients and servers that have no choice but to have an IPv6 address because IPv4 addresses will be used up. This means that operators of public-facing Web sites including federal agencies will need to serve IPv6 clients.
The report recommends that agencies adopt a dual-stack approach, running IPv4 and IPv6 side-by-side during the transition to the new Internet protocol.
The integration of IPv6 "should not be taken lightly," the report warns.
"When you read the Federal CIO document on IPv6, they are clearly giving direction that CIOs need to not take IPv6 lightly," says Scott Camarotti, vice president of federal markets for Global Crossing. "The federal agencies are starting to become a little more cognizant about IPv6…They're starting to realize the benefits of edge-to-edge communications and how supply chain management and CRM tools could benefit from an IPv6 addressing scheme."
The IPv6 road map "gives some pretty clear direction following up on the OMB mandate [from June 2008] about what these agencies should do and what their architectures should look like," Camarotti says. "Hopefully, it will give them a boost about taking this more seriously."