Ask not what you can do for IPv6, but rather what IPv6 can do for you

The Federal CIO Council has come up with some useful definitions to help take some of the guesswork out of the mandate to move agency backbones to IPv6 by next year.

The Office of Management and Budget in 2005 directed agencies to make the move to the next generation of Internet Protocols, setting a deadline of July 2008 for making core networks IPv6 compatible. But OMB did not explain exactly what it meant. In self-defense, the CIO Council’s IPv6 Working Group defined the scope of the transition to provide agencies with a manageable task, said John W. McManus, deputy CIO at the Commerce Department and co-chairman of the working group.

The core network is the upper hierarchy of the network, “a set of network transport devices that provide the highest level of traffic aggregation.” This does not include the sources or destinations of that traffic.

McManus, speaking Tuesday at the IPv6 Tech Forum hosted by AFCEA, said that at a minimum, agencies will have to be able to demonstrate that the core network can accept IPv6 traffic from a subnet or an external network and transport it to another subnet or network. To do this, final testing on the networks should be done by April of next year at the latest.

A handful of agencies are already at this point, McManus said, and another 70 percent are making good progress toward meeting the deadline. With that progress being made, it now is time to move the discussion of IPv6 beyond the OMB mandate and to begin focusing on how the new technology will be used, McManus said. The process of replacing the current IPv4 infrastructure with the new protocols throughout government enterprises will take decades.

“This is going to be a long transition,” he said. Doing adequate planning now is critical to getting the full advantage from it.

Steve Oronte, who heads the IPv6 practice for Command Information Inc. of Herndon, Va., said both government and industry should begin thinking about how they can take advantage of IPv6.

“It’s just IP,” he said, and enabling technology will move IP to the edge of an organization. What functions it will be used to enable will determine network architecture and design.

McManus said that the IPv6 transition should be viewed not as a separate project, but as part of a broader network evolution toward greater bandwidth, more mobility and better quality of service. He predicted it will not be a killer application that will drive end-user adoption of IPv6.

“It will be the converged, handheld device that starts to push mobility” and brings IPv6 to the fore, he said. He pointed to Apple’s recently announced iPhone as the type of next-generation device that will take advantage of the mobility and increased functionality promised by IPv6.

McManus said that those agencies that fail to meet the July deadline for moving core networks to IPv6 can expect to see consequences in their budget reviews by OMB.

“I think there are actual teeth behind this,” he said.

Although the transition to IPv6 is expected to continue throughout the career of most IT administrators now in government, Oronte said that the new generation protocols was designed to be future-proof. He predicted it still would be adequately serving networking needs 30 years from now.

“You can quote me on that,” he said.

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