Dec 31 2009

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An IPv6 expert lays out the next steps the government must take to make the leap to next-generation Internet service.

CIOs throughout the government have been meeting regularly to help prepare the government for the transition to Internet Protocol Version 6. But it’s now time for other senior managers to join in this effort if the government is going to realize the gains projected by converting its networks from IPv4 to the follow-on protocol.

Driven by the recognition that the current IP version cannot sustain long-term growth of the Internet, IPv6 has found purchase in other parts of the globe, particularly Asia. Yet, despite the technical benefits and innovation opportunities promised by IPv6, it has been slow to develop a following in the United States.

In the federal government, the primary mover has been the Defense Department. While many commercial U.S. organizations initially gave IPv6 a passing glance before dismissing it as a don’t-need-it-now technology, DOD researched the new protocol and saw significant uses as a component of its network-centric warfare initiative. In June 2003, the department set a 2008 mandate for IPv6 adoption by networks throughout DOD. The mandate instantly became the single most important driver for IPv6 adoption in the United States. And in 2005, the Office of Management and Budget set the same 2008 deadline for all federal agencies.

Should Versus Must

These moves by the government renewed the debate about the need for IPv6, the challenges of integrating it and the appropriate timeline for adoption. Even after eight years as a standard, with significant support capabilities in the core network infrastructure, many organizations are largely unaware of the capabilities IPv6 possesses. IPv6 remains for many in government something they have to do when it should be viewed as something they ought to do. Here’s why:

• The cost of transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is approximately $1 billion a year for the next 25 years, but the new protocol could generate upward of $10 billion in cost savings and additional services value every year. So, for every dollar invested in IPv6, an organization could expect a $10 return in cost savings.

• Of each dollar invested in the transition to IPv6, only about 8 cents is projected for the actual infrastructure upgrade, with the other 92 cents being invested in taking advantage of it.

• IPv6 has demonstrable cost savings in four chief areas: improved security, increased efficiency, enhancements to existing applications and creation of new Internet-driven apps.

This data comes from an economic analysis released this winter and done for the Commerce Department by scientific researcher RTI International of Research Triangle Park, N.C.

More federal managers must come into the discussion now — not just the information specialists — if IPv6 is to help the government accomplish missions and not just meet mandates. Specifically, these three groups of managers must become involved:

• Senior government officials with budget and program administration responsibilities must ensure that IPv6 becomes an enterprise-level initiative. OMB is pushing this effort through new reporting requirements under the Federal Enterprise Architecture program (see the FedTech Interview).

• CFOs and the CFO Council need to join with the CIOs and the CIO Council to map out and implement ways that IPv6 systems can save taxpayer dollars in agencies.

• Chief operating officers and program managers need to develop a vision for how the next-generation Internet will help agencies deliver services with the high level of innovation and effectiveness that American consumers now expect — even from their government. 

In the Vanguard

Agencies that want to speed up their IPv6 efforts should look to organizations within DOD for ideas. And even though some camps within Defense have taken a minimalist approach and are doing only what’s necessary to comply with the mandate, other more forward-thinking groups have worked to understand and leverage the potential benefits of an IPv6 infrastructure. Organizations such as the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center at Fort Mammoth, N.J., the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego and the Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., are offering integration leadership through testing and research and by helping the department identify how to best benefit from IPv6 adoption. Meanwhile, the Defense Information Systems Agency has established the IPv6 Transition Office to help qualify and quantify the department’s IPv6 integration efforts and provide guidance to agencies throughout DOD.

Beyond DOD and the government, IPv6 is now also taking hold in the commercial IT world, where there are lessons to be learned and shared. Many of the largest IT vendors are improving their implementations or aggressively incorporating IPv6 functionality. Software manufacturers, including Microsoft and Red Hat Linux, have added IPv6 functionality to their operating systems.

On the global front, industry bodies such as the North American IPv6 Task Force ( and the Internet Engineering Task Force ( are leading collaborative technical efforts with DOD groups, educators and vendors to establish guidance and interoperability testing platforms. The most notable of these projects is Moonv6. Taking place across the United States at multiple locations, the Moonv6 project is the largest permanently deployed multipartner IPv6 network in the world.

Beyond Tech

DOD is moving beyond the mandate because basic adoption is inadequate: Nothing significant is gained if IPv4 is simply replaced with IPv6. Defense leaders recognize that IPv6 is more than just a networking technology; it’s a building block for net-centricity. For the department, achieving net-centricity depends on more than centralizing DOD’s extensive collection of technologies, assets and communications gear. It is a philosophy — one that the department’s chieftains expect to adopt, in part, by weaving IPv6 capabilities into the framework of every system, program and hardware asset supported for the benefit of the warfighter.

Over the next two years, IPv6 adoption is going to happen within the government. Testing and assessments will continue to occur. Agencies will develop and review transition plans. Organizations will make equipment inventories, submit reports on incremental compliance and develop strategies for large-scale integration through 2008 and beyond. Looking ahead, however, it is time to move past sheer compliance with the mandate and begin thinking about leveraging the benefits of this new IPv6 infrastructure — to finally connect the mandate to the government’s missions.