IPv6: Flying under the radar

Moving to a new generation of IP networking protocols is not yet a top priority for many feds, according to a Federal Computer Week survey

A small number of federal employees with specialized technical skills are spending considerable time and energy to help federal agencies install IPv6 on their networks by June 30, 2008. By and large, however, federal information technology employees are unaware of the challenges involved in the transition to a new generation of IP networking protocols.

That lack of awareness is one of several findings from a Federal Computer Week survey in July of federal IT employees. Fourteen percent of the 637 survey respondents said they were aware of a governmentwide policy that requires agencies to run IPv6 on their backbone networks less than a year from now. In addition, many said that competing priorities, such as issuing smart card identity credentials to employees and contractors, have diverted their agencies’ IT budget and employee resources.

In its analysis of the survey, “Transitioning to IPv6,” FCW focused on the 101 respondents who said they were aware of the transition requirement. It found that at least 30 percent of the respondents who were aware of the requirement were not aware of the status of their agency’s progress. Eight percent said they have completed the mandatory transition. But most agencies reported that they are still at the beginning stages. About 40 percent said they have met the first requirement that Office of Management and Budget policy-makers have stipulated for the transition: They have assigned an agency official to coordinate the effort.

Another survey finding suggests that the governmentwide Networx contracts, which the General Services Administration recently awarded, could initially slow rather than accelerate the adoption of IPv6. Respondents cited the contracts’ complexity as a factor. The contracts require all Networx services to be IPv6-compliant. Some vendors, however, have complained that the government has not acted quickly enough to define what it means by IPv6-compliant.


Benefits of IPv6
The FCW survey also showed that although some employees question the necessity of the transition, others recognize the benefits of IPv6. Those benefits include more efficient routing of Internet traffic, easier network administration and quicker deployment of ad hoc wireless networks that are useful in battlefield or public-emergency situations. Agencies will see dramatic improvements in time-sensitive applications such as voice over IP and videoconferencing once they complete the transition to an IPv6 infrastructure, experts say.

The Defense Department started its transition to IPv6 in 2003. Two years later, OMB issued a policy memo that established a timeline for the rest of the federal government to begin the transition. FCW’s survey results show minimal progress toward meeting OMB’s requirements. For example, only 15 percent of respondents said they had completed an IPv6 transition plan for inclusion in their agencies’ enterprise architecture documents. And only 14 percent said their agencies had identified the fiscal and operational resources needed for the transition and the risks that might be involved.


During the transition to the new infrastructure, agencies must operate in a dual mode in which they use IPv6 and the current protocol, IPv4, to support mission-critical activities, experts say. Most of the companies that make operating systems and routers already support both protocols in their software. Because of the layered composition of networks, other components in addition to routers and computer operating systems must support both protocols. Com panies that make firewalls and other essential Internet components plan to su pp rt both protocols unti l the transition to IPv6 is complete, a process that could take years, experts say.

Implications of IPv6
Many agencies said they already possess a substantial amount of IPv6 capability on their networks. About 40 percent of the survey respondents said most of their IT hardware is IPv6-capable, and more than half said their agencies require IPv6 when they buy network components.


The survey findings also suggest that the transition to IPv6 is not foremost on the minds of many federal IT officials. However, officials who are familiar with maintaining or developing their network backbone understand the technical implications of the transition and said they hope to see agencies devote sufficient resources to IPv6 training. They worry that information security might be compromised as agencies move to a new technology whose ease of use could expose agencies to new information security threats.

Lunn is the 1105 Government Information Group’s research director.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group