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U.S. military strong-arming IT industry on IPv6

Pentagon pressuring suppliers to use IPv6 products they sell on their own networks, Web sites

By , Network World
December 20, 2010 11:15 AM ET

Network World - The U.S. military is ratcheting up the pressure on its network suppliers to deploy IPv6 on their own networks and Web sites so they can gain operational experience and fix bugs in the products they are selling that support the next-generation Internet protocol.

For years, the Defense Department in public forums and private conversations has been pushing network hardware and software companies to use their own IPv6 products, a practice known as "eating your own dog food" in tech industry parlance.

Cisco eats its own IPv6 dog food

Now, with depletion of IP addresses using the current standard known as IPv4 expected to occur next year, the Pentagon is taking a tougher stance with network suppliers that are marketing -- but not using -- IPv6.

Defense Department officials are threatening these suppliers with the loss of military business if they don’t use their own wares to start deploying IPv6 on their corporate networks and public-facing Web services immediately.

At the forefront of this push is the Defense Research and Engineering Network (DREN), which links the military’s high-performance computing centers nationwide and carries voice, video and data. DREN has supported IPv6 since 2003, and IPv6 represents about 10% of its traffic.

"We are pressing our vendors in any way we can," says Ron Broersma, DREN Chief Engineer and a Network Security Manager for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. "We are competing one off against another. If they want to sell to us, we’re asking them: Are you using IPv6 features in your own products on your corporate networks? Is your public Web site IPv6 enabled? We’ve been doing this to all of the vendors."

The Defense Department's opinion of IPv6 is significant given that is one of the world’s largest buyers of network gear. The U.S. military spends more than $2 billion per year on network hardware, software and related services, according to FedSources, a McLean, Va. market research firm.

Pressure from the U.S. military is one of the reasons network vendors such as Brocade and Cisco are beginning to support IPv6 on their Web sites. The military considers this an important step in demonstrating commitment to the new standard.

"As we were getting closer to IPv4 depletion, we realized that a good chunk of the world is going to be on IPv6, and they are going to need to get to the public Internet," Broersma says. "It dawned on us that IPv6-enabling the public-facing Web services was the most critical first step, and it was the low-hanging fruit. It’s easier than doing your corporate network."

Brocade began supporting IPv6 on its main Web site -- www.brocade.com – in August. Company officials say it took only six weeks to deploy the new standard because it used its own ADX load balancers to do the translation services between IPv4 and IPv6 network traffic.

"The DOD pressured us into doing this," said Kelly Brown, a Brocade network engineer who championed the IPv6 effort. "Ron Broersma reached out to us … Saying he was 'nudging' us to IPv6 is too easy a term. Once Ron gave us the encouragement, we thought about it and decided to go for it to see exactly what the problems are with IPv6."

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