Hain: How to meet the looming deadline

Here are five steps to be IPv6-ready by June 2008

The Office of Management and Budget’s mandate that government agencies update their network backbones for IPv6 compatibility by June 2008 is not cause for despair. Nevertheless, agencies should not dawdle in their preparations to move to the next-generation routing protocol. Federal agencies can take a few judicious steps now that will allow them to meet the deployment deadline cost-effectively.

Agencies will not get additional funding as they work to meet the mandate, which applies only to core network infrastructure equipment, such as backbone routers and switches. But it does require that agencies plan in advance.

With this in mind, here are five steps to get from here to there.

1. Integrate IPv6 migration with normal product life cycle replacement.
Agencies can avoid spending money explicitly for IPv6 migration by folding it into planned product procurements from their existing information technology budgets. If IT staffs include upgrades to IPv6 as part of their regular procurement process and select IPv6-capable products from now on, they can take an evolutionary approach to supporting the new protocol.

2. Assess existing infrastructure hardware for upgradeability.
Agencies’ top priority should be to take inventory of infrastructure hardware that is limited to use with IPv4. Software can be upgraded almost anytime, but some hardware must be capable of supporting IPv6 by design.

Devices most likely to need attention are routers at the high and low ends. High-end routers tend to include acceleration hardware that might be limited to 32-bit addresses. Low-end routers simply may have too little memory to support IPv6 software.

3. Use transition technologies judiciously.
For routers that must support IPv6 service by June 2008 but are already slated for replacement shortly thereafter — say, in late 2008 or early 2009 — agencies can incorporate tunneling into the network temporarily until the end of the device’s life cycle.

Tunneling involves routing IPv6 packets via virtual paths in the backbone by wrapping them in IPv4 network address headers. Before delivery to endpoints, the IPv6 packets are unwrapped and delivered via IPv6 service. IT managers should be sure OMB officials acknowledge that temporary tunneling meets the intent of the IPv6 service support requirement.

4. Integrate IPv6 training into the IT budget and process now.
Training might represent a fairly high cost of IPv6 migration, so integrate it into the IT training budget and process as soon as possible. To minimize confusion, IPv6 should be considered a different protocol from IPv4 — and one that will take time to learn.

5. Add IPv6 to all RFPs.
Folding IPv6 support into new procurements beyond the core network will help ensure that agencies meet forthcoming OMB deadlines. This means including IPv6 support in all IT requests for proposals. Doing so avoids the impasse of vendors not making devices IPv6-enabled because RFPs don’t specify it and of agencies not upgrading because IPv6 is not available in certain products.

The IPv6 deployment process is fairly straightforward. However, employees will need training; routers and operating systems will need updates; management tools will require enhancements; and agencies will have to deploy IPv6-enabled versions of applications. Integrating IPv6 procurement planning and training into existing IT processes now will help agencies meet their upgrade deadlines and avoid unexpected and unnecessary costs.

Hain is Cisco Systems’ senior technical leader for IPv6 technologies.

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