New IP a go, but no new money

Agencies have until mid-2008 to update their network backbones for IP Version 6 compatibility. But if they were expecting new money to help with the transition, they will be disappointed.

OMB memo: Transition Planning for Internet Protocol Version 6

Federal agencies have the funding necessary to make a mandatory transition to the next generation of IP, according to a top Office of Management and Budget official.

Agencies have until mid-2008 to update their network backbones for IP Version 6 compatibility under the requirements of an OMB memo dated Aug. 2. But if they were expecting new money to help with the transition, they will be disappointed.

"The good news: You have all the money you need," said Glenn Schlarman, information policy branch chief in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, speaking at a Sept. 13 event sponsored by the Potomac Forum.

OMB's unwillingness to parcel out more money for this new requirement is a reality of today's tight budget environment, said Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International. Agencies will simply have to reallocate resources — and not ask OMB what task now takes lower priority, he added. "They'll just get more friendly advice."

OMB will also begin using its agency enterprise architecture framework to assess IPv6 transition efforts. "This is part of your architecture, and your architecture isn't just the technology; it's what we do, why we do it and how we can improve what we can do," Schlarman added.

Dick Burk, head of OMB's Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office, will act as a watchdog over the transition process.

But agencies that have made plans to routinely update technology will find that they are much closer than they perhaps realize to IPv6 compatibility, Schlarman said.

Agencies have the option of operating dual-stack networks that simultaneously support the current protocol, IPv4, and IPv6. The new protocol is a technology refresh, he added.

A major security problem facing agencies is unwittingly possessing IPv6 capabilities without having proper controls in place. Once activated, IPv6-ready devices form a self-configuring network, but "the firewalls in the devices might be totally ignorant" of the IPv6 traffic, said Jim Schifalacqua, a security specialist at SI International. But "the hacker community has been IPv6-ready for a couple of years."

Global competition should also spur IPv6 adoption, Schlarman said. For example, the European Union, Japan and China have taxpayer funds dedicated to building IPv6 networks. The new protocol not only updates the current one but presents still-unknown possibilities. "We can't predict what they will be," he said, but the government must prepare for them.

And the competition is intense. Next-generation protocol efforts in Japan are as focused on the U.S. government's development of Internet technology was 30 years ago, said Charles Phillips, House Government Reform Committee policy counsel.

"It's almost as though our original lead in the Internet has turned into a liability with our focus on current Version 4 protocols," he said, adding that legislation should be a last resort.

Americans historically "want the market itself to determine what we need," Schlarman said. With IPv6, the government can ensure that the United States remains on the cutting edge of Internet technology by acting as a market catalyst, he added.

IPv6's advantages and risks

IP Version 6 offers known and unknown advantages over current routing technology. Immediate benefits include improved data routing, integrated security at the protocol level and self-configuring networks, which facilitate greater mobility.

In addition, IPv6 solves the limited address space problem, providing more IP addresses by 28 orders of magnitude — 340 undecillion total, as opposed to 4.3 billion possible addresses generated by today's protocol. An undecillion equals 1036.

Adopting IPv6 is not without risks, however. "Ironically, this protocol that has great benefits in the long term could create some security concerns in the short term," said David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office.

GAO and the Office of Management and Budget are preparing guidance for agencies during the transition. "We're going to make sure our guidance is consistent," Powner added.

— David Perera

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