DOD moving to IPv6

Beginning in October, all Defense Department assets acquired for the Global Information Grid must be compatible with the next-generation Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), according to DOD's top information technology official.

The GIG is a massive DOD network designed to connect warfighters anywhere in the world. Moving to IPv6 will help the department achieve its goal of network-centric warfare and operations by the end of the decade, said John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration.

Stenbit signed a policy memorandum June 9 that outlines DOD's transition to the new protocol by 2008. That year was chosen because most experts estimate widespread commercial adoption will take place from 2005 to 2007, he said.

"We want to make it clear to our programs' major development activities that come on line in the 2008-2010 timeframe that the IPv6 standard, as it evolves, will be the department's standard," he said during a Pentagon press briefing today.

Stenbit, who also serves as DOD chief information officer, said the current protocol, IPv4, has been in use for almost 30 years. He noted that its fundamental limitations hinder network-centric operations, which link together disparate portions of the battlefield and increase the lethality of U.S. forces by providing situational awareness and knowledge superiority.

Stenbit said IPv6 is designed to meet future commercial and DOD requirements, including:

* Improved end-to-end security, which is critical for DOD intranets that contain large amounts of classified information and traffic.

* Improved quality of service through work-arounds that will eliminate packet drops and instability on video teleconferences and voice-over-IP systems.

* Facilitation of mobile communications.

* Better system management.

* Expanded IP address space, which is a major problem in Europe.

DOD is in the process of selecting three large programs to serve as early adopters of the new protocol, and the "results of those three experiments will [determine] if we pull the switch in 2008," he said.

One pilot program per year will launch between 2005 and 2007 and they will be large enough, but also controlled enough, so that DOD can properly analyze results for possible enterprise use, Stenbit said.

He added that either the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) or the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET) might be one of the programs switched over to IPv6, and that the Navy Marine Corps Intranet also is being considered. Definitive choices will be made within 30 days.

"NMCI has a large population of users. . .and when they get to [a suite] of standard applications, there's a technology refresh in the contract in a couple of years," he said, noting that could be the time to make a switch to IPv6.

Vendors, including Cisco Systems Inc., already are producing equipment that is compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, and as competition heats up in the next few years, costs should level out, Stenbit said. However, routers, software and other tools that run on both standards will probably perform slower, prompting Stenbit to note, "We believe that to be a real cost, but that doesn't keep me awake at night."

A draft DOD IPv6 transition plan will be released within one month and completion of the plan is expected by early September, according to Stenbit's memo.

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