Military sees network benefits from IPv6

The next generation of Internet standards will help the Defense Department reach its goal of network centricity, a DOD official said today.

When DOD announced in June that it will convert all of its systems, networks and applications to IP version 6 (IPv6) by 2008, commercial companies foresaw potentially billions of dollars in upgrades. But at today's IPv6 summit in Arlington, Va., several industry executives admitted to not fully understanding the urgency behind DOD's decision.

IPv6 will ultimately expedite the department's move toward network centricity, said John Osterholz, DOD's director of architecture and interoperability. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "our ability to come back online and handle operational matters was impaired," he said. "We needed to be more networked than we were, and we realized an important truth: The way we handle data on the network defeated the purpose of having the network in the first place."

Information keepers distributed data to people they thought needed it but didn't consider that far more people could use the raw data in their work, specifically in warfighting, Osterholz said.

"If you were on the Rolodex [of the information keeper], you got the data that was collected and analyzed," he said. "If not, you were out of luck."

The fundamental limitations of IPv4, the protocol that has been in use for years, hinder network-centric operations, which link portions of the battlefield to provide situational awareness and knowledge superiority. IPv6 will let data travel more smoothly and efficiently and give the department billions more IP addresses that can be used on logistics tags to track equipment and personnel.

"Mobility, security, plug and play and networking tend to move to IPv6," Osterholz said. "You can hot rod IPv4 to look like IPv6, but if you do that, what have you done to the operators who handle the network? You've just given them another set of patches, some of whom will get them and some of whom won't."

There will be years of overlap between IPv4 and IPv6, but John Stenbit, DOD's chief information officer, mandated that any hardware or applications acquired after Oct. 30, 2003, must be IPv6 compatible.

DOD is in the minority in the IPv6 movement, Osterholz said, referring to DOD's status as the first government agency to pursue the next generation of IP. "Some are not comfortable being out on the edge, but we're committed to this."

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