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How feds are dropping the ball on IPv6

Six months shy of an IPv6 deadline, few agencies are running the new protocol

By , Network World
December 17, 2007 12:10 AM ET

Network World - U.S. federal agencies have six months to meet a deadline to support IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol known as IPv4. But most agencies are not grabbing hold of the new technology and running with it, industry observers say.

Instead, most federal CIOs are doing the bare minimum required by law to meet the IPv6 mandate, and they aren't planning to use the new network protocol for the foreseeable future.

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"The huge majority of federal networking is still going to be IPv4-based in June," predicts Doug Junkins, vice president of IP development for NTT America's Global IP Network business unit. NTT has offered commercial IPv6 services in the United States for five years.

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"The vast majority of agencies will meet the mandate, but I don't think it's going to change how they operate their networks on a day-to-day basis," Junkins says. "They'll find the easiest way to meet the mandate. I don't think the mandate will be the driver for them to start using IPv6 on a regular basis."

Only 10% of federal agencies are buying services to run IPv6 traffic on their backbone networks, carriers estimate. The other 90% of federal agencies will likely meet the IPv6 mandate by upgrading their core routers to be IPv6 capable without running IPv6 traffic over them, carriers predict.

For the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) IPv6 mandate, agencies "didn't really have to deploy it. They only have to be capable of it," says Dave Siegel, director of data services product management at Global Crossing, which has one federal customer of its IPv6 service.

"To meet the OMB mandate, all they have to do is enable IPv6 on their backbone routers and then they get the check mark. And that’s nothing," agrees Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest Government Services, which also has one federal IPv6 customer.

The main driver for the upgrade to IPv6 is the lack of address space in IPv4 (See a counter showing how much time is left before IPv4 addresses run out). IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and supports 4 billion IP addresses. Because it uses 128-bit addresses, IPv6 can support a virtually limitless number of IP addresses. With IPv6, more devices can be connected directly to the Internet. IPv6 also promises to support new network management, mobility and security features.

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The problem with OMB's IPv6 mandate, Siegel says, is not with federal CIOs but with IPv6 itself. He says IPv6 fails to offer enough benefits besides larger IP address space, which most U.S. federal agencies don't need.

"There's nothing that you can get with IPv6 that you can't get with IPv4 in terms of access to information or sites. It's not like you get a huge improvement in performance," Siegel says. "Who in their right mind would want to implement it? The answer is people on the cutting edge, like research institutions or ISPs that sell to research institutions."

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