We are ready for IPv6 D-Day

Feds set to declare IPv6 compatibility in move toward next-generation Internet

On June 30, U.S. federal government officials expect to declare an early victory on the IPv6 front. But they admit that meeting their much-heralded June 30 deadline for IPv6 compatibility is just the opening salvo of a long-term battle to get their networks ready for the Internet of the future.

Under a White House policy issued in August 2005, all federal agencies must demonstrate the ability to pass IPv6 packets across their backbone networks by this deadline.

Federal officials and IPv6 service providers are reporting little last-minute scrambling by agency CIOs or their network operations staff. That's because the federal IPv6 requirements aren't too difficult to meet, according to industry experts who predict agencies will file the required IPv6 test results on time to the Office of Management and Budget.

"It's surprisingly quiet given all the focus and attention and money that the agencies have spent on the IPv6 initiative and planning for it," says Bill White, vice president of federal sales for Sprint, which has worked with a half-dozen federal agencies to meet the mandate. "Agencies have done their testing and they have done the minimum to be in adherence with the OMB mandate."

"I have not heard of anybody who is not going to make the IPv6 deadline," says Pete Tseronis, chair of the IPv6 working group of the Federal CIO Council and a senior technical adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy. "For the last two and a half years, agencies have been reporting on their IPv6 progress through their Enterprise Architecture quarterly and annual reports. ... If someone doesn't make the deadline, it will be interesting to know why."

Although the federal IPv6 deadline appears to be coming and going without drama, it is still a significant milestone in the anticipated rollout of the next-generation Internet. IPv6 has been available for a decade but has yet to be widely deployed.

IPv6 is an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol that provides virtually unlimited address space, built-in security and simplified network management. Created by the Internet Engineering Task Force in 1998, IPv6 replaces IPv4, which supports 4.3 billion individually addressed devices on the network.

IPv4 address space is running out, and experts agree that the 27-year-old protocol will not support all the Internet-connected devices used by the world's 6.5 billion people in the future. IPv6 provides so many IP addresses -- 2 to the 128th power -- that it is expected to enable secure, mobile and embedded applications that are inconceivable today.

Although commercial deployment of IPv6 is furthest along in Asia, where IPv4 addresses are scarce, the U.S. was the first country to require its federal networks to support IPv6 by a particular date. Indeed, the U.S. government's apparently successful effort to make its backbone networks IPv6 capable has prompted action among other countries worried about falling behind in next-generation Internet technology.

The European Commission held an IPv6 Day in Brussels in May to discuss Europe's lagging IPv6 deployment. European Union countries have set a goal -- but not a requirement -- for 25% of commercial, government and residences to use IPv6 by 2010.

"Basically, what they were saying at this meeting is that [Europe is] a little bit behind the U.S. and Asia," says Cody Christman, director of product engineering at NTT America Inc., which has offered IPv6 Internet access for five years and counts the Federal Aviation Administration among its customers. Christman attended the May 30 IPv6 Day. "This is a call to action for the EU to get on the stick."

OMB says agencies will comply

Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology in OMB, says that she expects all federal agencies to meet the IPv6 deadline.

"We have no reason to believe that agencies are not going to meet the deadline," Evans says. "Based on everything they have been reporting to us and how the process is supposed to work, there is no reason for the agencies not to be able to demonstrate compliance with IPv6."

Evans says 10 cabinet-level agencies have submitted the required e-mail to OMB from their CIOs stating that they have successfully transmitted IPv6 packets. Evans expects to receive similar e-mails from 14 other cabinet-level agencies in the next few days.

"They've done the work; they just need to send in the notification to OMB to validate the work that's been done," Evans says. "This doesn't mean I'm in a panic because I haven't received the form from 14 agencies. This is normal. We track [IPv6 progress] on a quarterly basis. ... We have no reason to believe that we won't receive the other notifications."

Evans says no federal agency has notified OMB of having failed to pass IPv6 packets successfully over the backbone network, and no federal agency has asked for an extension beyond June 30.

"It's a huge accomplishment for all of us to make the deadline," Evans says. "Agencies had to buy IPv6-compliant hardware, put the services out there and properly implement them so that they can run IPv6 across their backbones."

Even more important to the Bush administration is the fact that the U.S. federal government met its IPv6 deadline without a huge influx of cash.

When the federal IPv6 mandate was being considered, some IPv6 marketers said the U.S. federal government needed to spend upward of $10 billion on IPv6 transition. OMB proved them wrong. Instead, the U.S. government is migrating to IPv6 through its regular tech refresh budget with some minor additional spending in training and network engineering.

"We're going through this transition based on the life cycle of our IT investments," Evans says. "The infrastructures that agencies were buying already have IPv6 capabilities. ... If we had done this as an afterthought, then it would have been a huge cost. ... We're transitioning to IPv6 in a very concerted way."

What's next for IPv6

Meeting the OMB's IPv6 mandate is relatively easy. Agencies have to prove they can pass IPv6 packets across their backbone networks, and that's possible because most routers support IPv6. However, there is no requirement for agencies to run IPv6 in production mode on their networks or to port their applications to IPv6.

The Bush administration has no plans to establish additional IPv6-related deadlines. That will be up to the next person who directs OMB's e-government and IT initiatives, Evans says.

In the meantime, OMB will continue to require agencies to discuss IPv6 progress in their annual reports on enterprise architecture.

"Right now, we have agencies focused on segment network architectures that are robust. ... This information is going to be available so the next person in my position could take advantage of what we've done and make multiple deadlines for other IPv6-related capabilities," Evans says.

Some industry observers say OMB didn't go far enough with its IPv6 mandate, which didn't include deadlines for production-level deployment of the protocol.

"I think the real issue is that we don't have a lot of agencies running dual IPv4/IPv6 stacks. We don't have a lot of people adopting IPv6," says Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager at Qwest Government Services, which helped the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Maritime Commission meet the IPv6 deadline. "The next administration is going to have to worry about how we push IPv6 adoption because IPv4 address space is going to run out, and we do have reasons from a security perspective to do this."

For the next 18 months, the focus on IPv6 in the federal market will be at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is expected to issue in July Version 1.0 of its "Profile for IPv6 in the U.S. Government." This document will detail how IPv6 hardware and software will be procured and deployed in operational government IT systems.

"There's definitely going to be a lot of work going on in IPv6 after June 30," Tseronis says. "We see much more of a collaborative relationship not only in the CIO Council and our IPv6 working group but with industry. We have a two-year program set up with NIST where they are going to work on an IPv6 compliance and interoperability testing program."

Tseronis describes OMB's IPv6 mandate and the June 30 deadline as Mile Marker 1 in a marathon-long transition to IPv6 for federal agencies.

"We've been having this conversation about IPv6 for two years. We've raised the awareness about IPv6," Tseronis says. "If I'm a CIO and I'm supposed to be forward-looking, I'll be looking at my IT refresh budget, I'll be looking at the age of my equipment, and I'll be anticipating IPv6 capabilities out there like security, multicasting and the ability to do more mobile communications. ... That's what I hope agencies are doing."

Tseronis says the Federal CIO Council's IPv6 Working Group will offer guidance to federal agencies about re-architecting their networks to support IPv6 in dual-stack mode initially and eventually to migrate to native IPv6.

"We need to get some short-term goals for the federal government for the next two years out because IPv6 isn't a one-trick pony and it's done on June 30," Tseronis says. "June 30 is going to be a great day, but now it's about keeping the momentum going."

IPv6 and Networx

Carriers say most civilian agencies will deploy IPv6 through the Networx contract, a 10-year telecom program open to all federal agencies. Networx carriers include AT&T, Verizon, Qwest, Sprint and Level 3 Communications.

"Anybody who buys services off the Networx contracts will have IPv6 capabilities," Evans says. "That was another big key thing with our IPv6 strategy. All the agencies are moving off [predecessor contract] FTS 2001 and transitioning to Networx. ... [Agencies] are going to be able to buy IPv6 as a service from those providers."

Sprint, for example, has submitted a contract modification to its Networx Enterprise contract for dual-stack IPv6 and IPv4 service.

"It's probably a matter of days or weeks for approval," White says. "IPv6 is something [the agencies] are expecting the carriers to take care of for them."

Global Crossing, which provides IPv6 services on the Networx Universal contract as a subcontractor to AT&T, says the carrier has received more inquiries from federal agencies about its IPv6 services during the last 90 days but hasn't closed any sales yet.

"The IPv6 discussions oftentimes evolve into deeper technical discussions on next-generation technologies like MPLS, VoIP and converged services," says Scott Camarotti, vice president of sales for federal markets at Global Crossing. "Those are some of the byproducts of the OMB IPv6 mandate."

Even though sales of IPv6 services remain weak, carriers say OMB's IPv6 mandate has had a significant impact in the federal market, particularly on civilian agencies. The U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have long-standing plans to adopt IPv6 as quickly as possible for its enhanced network security, mobility and the ability to support sensors and other embedded devices.

"IPv6 is going to keep on going" after June 30, predicts Paul Girardi, engineering team lead at AT&T Government Solutions. "Because of the mandate, agencies understand that it has to be part of every major procurement. Everything we are looking at has IPv6 requirements. Also, at the end of the day there will come a time where you won't be able to get IPv4 addresses. The whole industry has to go this way whether we like it or not."

This story, "We are ready for IPv6 D-Day" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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