Businesses capitalize on IPv6 mandate

Vendors develop services to help agencies meet 2008 deadline for compliance

For a variety of reasons, companies see a good business case for developing IPv6 offerings for agencies that face a compliance deadline that is less than two years away.

Federal agencies have until June 2008 to upgrade their network backbones to IPv6, which will support a vast increase in the number of unique IP addresses available and bring other advances over the current IPv4. IPv6 support is a requirement of the forthcoming Networx contract as well, giving agencies more than one reason to implement IPv6.

AT&T and Global Crossing have teamed to develop an IPv6 test bed network that agencies can use to phase in the new protocol and test its implementation before disconnecting older applications. Meanwhile, Command Information, an IPv6 training company, has opened a center in Herndon, Va., where customers can train employees and develop IPv6 applications.

“The government and the world are moving very slowly down this path” to IPv6, said Hank Beebe, vice president in charge of the Networx contract bid at AT&T Government Solutions. The partnership with Global Crossing “gives agencies the ability to test [their new networks] in a real-world environment.”

Having a way to test upgrades in the real world will help agencies ensure that they can migrate smoothly from the old to the new, said Alan Rosenberg, Global Crossing’s global vice president of business development.

Command Information’s center can accommodate up to 100 people at a time for training, and it also can serve as a test facility, said Tom Patterson, the company’s chief executive officer. “We’ve built out a June 2008 infrastructure today,” he said. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out of how you do a transition.”

Patterson said he believes the mandate is not the only reason the government is interested in IPv6. The technology can support agency missions in ways current technology cannot, he said. However, “because it is a brand-new industry, you can’t just take things out of the box and plug them in,” he added.

But not all analysts agree that IPv6 would catch on without the mandate.

“The value proposition of IPv6 is still relatively weak,” said Zeus Kerravala, a vice president at the Yankee Group. “It’s tied to having a lot more addresses. There are a lot of other things IPv6 could do, but for the most part it’s not.”

Vendors are uniquely positioned to aid agencies as mandates are issued and as deadlines approach, said Rishi Sood, a vice president at Gartner.

“When mandates like these happen and proclamations from above are articulated in the marketplace, many times the vendor community needs to get together,” he said.

AT&T’s partnership with Global Crossing “enables potential customers and prospects to get a better understanding of what IPv6 could mean,” Sood said. And agencies must understand it, “given the larger business issues associated with the federal marketplace today.”

Some agencies may have moved slowly at first, but the pace is increasing, Rosenberg said. “There is a realization that this is coming to fruition,” he said.

IPv6: So easy even an elected official can do it

To show how easy it is to connect and configure an IPv6 device to a network, officials at Command Information’s new training center had Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine connect a camera at a ceremony opening the facility in Herndon, Va.

“I can leverage this one day and say I invented the Internet,” Kaine quipped, echoing a statement famously, though erroneously, attributed to former vice president Al Gore. Kaine plugged in the camera, and Tom Patterson, Command Information’s chief executive officer, told him he was done. The network automatically found and configured the device.

“This is one sensor,” Patterson said, pointing at the camera. As use of IPv6 spreads, “there are going to be billions. We’re skipping millions altogether.”

Patterson emphasized the security features of IPv6, something often overshadowed by talk about the vast number of unique addresses the protocol offers. The camera Kaine connected, Patterson said, is visible only to other users of the Command Information network, not to the Internet at large.

“It’s not a matter of firewalls and all the cumbersome security of the old Internet,” he said. For people not authorized to see the camera’s images, “it’s just not there.”

— Michael Hardy

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