Fed's IPv6 plan called a 'game changer'

Internet policymakers and industry leaders are hailing the Obama Administration's plan to upgrade all federal Web sites and e-government services over the next two years to support IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol.

The plan was released today by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who issued a memo requiring all federal agencies to upgrade their public-facing Web services – including Web, email, DNS and ISP services – to native IPv6 by September 30, 2012.

The Kundra memo establishes a second deadline of September 30, 2014 for federal agencies to upgrade internal client applications that communicate with public Internet servers to use native IPv6. Each agency is required to designate an IPv6 transition manager to direct IPv6-related activities, and they must purchase network hardware and software that complies with the federal government's IPv6 testing process.

"This [memo] is the single largest impetus for change that I've seen in the last few years," says Ram Mohan, executive vice president of Afilias, which operates .info and a dozen other Internet domains. "It's going to make network providers who are on the fence about IPv6 jump off the fence because the federal government is now speaking very clearly that it is going to adopt IPv6 fully. I think it will push them to make the capital investments that are necessary to adopt IPv6. It comes at a good time because this is budget season in corporate America."

[ Also see: At long last, Obama highlights IPv6 issue ]

The federal IPv6 directive "is very good for IPv6 deployment in the United States," says John Curran, President and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which doles out IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to network operators in North America. "It's also encouraging that it follows the historic practice in the U.S. in that the emphasis is on coordination and on the federal government as a user of IT. It's not a regulatory or prescriptive direction."

Kundra released the IPv6 memo in conjunction with an IPv6 workshop held by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today. The workshop featured high-profile executives from government, industry and Internet policymaking organizations who urged  the federal government to set a deadline for IPv6-enabling their Web sites.

The workshop represented the first time the Obama Administration has given IPv6 any publicity in the 21 months it has been in office. Indeed, government insiders said Kundra didn't ask them about agencies' progress on IPv6 until last week, when he began preparing for NTIA's workshop.

IPv6 is the biggest upgrade in the 40-year history of the Internet. Forward-looking carriers and enterprises are deploying IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4.

IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices -- 2 to the 128th power.

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