Beinhorn: Are you IPv6-ready?

The Internet technology we rely on as the nervous system of our economy, government and national security has fundamental limitations that need to be addressed. The current version of the Internet — IPv4 — has a boundary that will actually encumber advances in mobile technologies.

The finite number of IP addresses hinders the technology's ability to meet the growing demand to uniquely identify multiple devices on the Web — computers, printers, IP phones — and even guns, soldiers' helmets, robots and more. Therefore, plug-and-play network connectivity and the ability to extend applications and services, such as voice over IP, videoconferencing and enhanced systems management, are severely weakened.

The next generation of IP, Version 6 (IPv6), overcomes the inherent weaknesses of IPv4 and offers additional services and functionality. For example, it exponentially expands the number of available IP addresses and provides enhanced services, such as better security and guaranteed levels of service for priority data traveling via the Web.

Characteristically, Defense Department officials are taking the leadership role. All new networking equipment purchases must be IPv6 compatible, and departmentwide IPv6 usage will be the rule by 2008. Two major programs, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet and Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion, have already followed the mandate to migrate to IPv6.

Due to Bush administration officials' interest in IPv6, the Commerce Department initiated a study several months ago to examine the issues raised by the deployment of IPv6 in the United States. The results of that study will address a variety of issues including the benefits and uses of IPv6, current barriers to its deployment and the appropriate role of the government in the national transition from IPv4.

So what do you need to do to ensure that your agency is ready for the next generation of Internet technologies?

Plan: Assess existing infrastructure by taking inventory of what's in use. If possible, mandate IPv6 compliance for all new hardware and software purchases.

Secure, secure, secure: IPv6 will provide certain security improvements in the long run, but it's not a panacea for current cybersecurity threats. The transition to IPv6 is an chance to map and execute a more cohesive and interconnected network security strategy.

Run dual fuel: Continue to manage necessary IPv4 upgrades while administering IPv6 deployments in a controlled migration environment. The two versions can coexist on the same network, and most new devices support both protocols.

Adopt industry best practices: A handful of IPv6 networks are in production, including the Moon v6 and the Defense Research and Engineering Network. Further, policy guidance is in development by industry/government coalitions, such as the Internet2, IPv6 Forum and Industry Advisory Council, to direct the transition.

IPv6 is inevitable, and its impact on the networks and Internet tools of the future cannot be discounted. By carefully coordinating IPv4 upgrades with IPv6 deployments, networks can mature and evolve gracefully without experiencing costly growing pains. IPv6 is making tomorrow's next-generation networks more efficient to deploy, maintain and operate today.

Beinhorn is vice president of Juniper Federal Systems. She can be reached at beinhorn@juniper.net.

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