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Feds back go slow approach on IPv6

By , Network World
February 08, 2006 11:26 AM ET

Network World - IPv6 advocates looking for the U.S. federal government to make a major financial commitment to the next-generation of the Internet’s main communications protocol will be disappointed with the findings of a new report from the Department of Commerce.

"Aggressive government action to accelerate the deployment of IPv6 by the private sector is not warranted at this time," according to the Commerce Department’s IPv6 Task Force, which consists of officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The Commerce Department report found that "no substantial market barriers appear to exist that would prevent industry from investing in IPv6 products and services as its needs require or as consumers demand."

However, the report did hint at additional federal funding for IPv6-related research and development.

"The federal government will need to consider allocation of new resources and to work cooperatively with non-federal authorities and the private sector to address outstanding IPv6 research and development issues and to expedite the development of suitable deployment, coexistence and transition plans," the report says.

Developed by the IETF, IPv6 promises easier administration, tighter security and an enhanced addressing scheme when compared to IPv4, the Internet’s current protocol. IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports a virtually limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 uses a 32-bit addressing scheme and supports only a few billion systems.

The Commerce Department’s IPv6 Task Force was created in response to a 2003 White House report on cyberspace security. The task force was charged with conducting a cost/benefit analysis on whether the transition to IPv6 should be accelerated to provide enhanced cyberspace security.

The task force’s report, entitled a "Technical and Economic Assessment of Internet Protocol Version 6," outlines the benefits of IPv6 including more address space, end-to-end security and easier network administration. Nonetheless, the report recommends a go-slow approach to federal agencies and enterprises looking to migrate to IPv6.

"Although IPv6 has the potential to produce significant benefits for U.S. businesses and consumers over time, the near-term benefits are less clear," the report states. "In the initial years of IPv6 deployment, network security will likely be no greater under the protocol than is currently available in IPv4 networks. Additional evidence suggests that premature adoption of IPv6…could result in unnecessary costs and reduced information technology security."

The Commerce Department report has many positive things to say about IPv6. Indeed, the report suggests the inevitability of IPv6 being deployed in most network hardware, operating systems and software within the next five years.

The report says that enterprises and government agencies will likely purchase IPv6-enabled gear during standard tech refresh cycles and move to the technology gradually rather than all at once. The report identifies many of the obstacles to IPv6 deployment including the huge installed base of IPv4 systems and the labor-intensive process of upgrading to IPv6.

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