Edgerton: June 30: The deadline is here

Today’s deadline for federal agencies to upgrade their backbone networks to IPv6 will surely pass with little fanfare. After all, the directives from the Office of Management and Budget required only that agencies upgrade their networks to be compatible with the new protocol — they don’t actually have to use it.

However, regardless of directives or compliance deadlines, there is no question that the ways in which individuals will use the Internet in years to come is going to change dramatically. The issue lies in whether those responsible for creating the architecture for next-generation networks and applications will be late in satisfying demand.

In many ways, upgrading networks to meet the deadline has been a thankless task, fraught with limited understanding, scant resources and few immediate benefits. A lack of compelling applications and services available today makes it difficult for senior leaders to build a business case.

It is likely that few people saw much value when, in the 1960s, a little-known government agency set about to connect mainframe computers at universities around the country, creating what was then known as the ARPAnet. But that gave birth to today’s Internet. Who could have envisioned how the Internet would change the way government, and everyone it serves, conducts business?

The next-generation Internet promises the same kind of revolutionary change, offering greater mobility, more bandwidth, better quality of service and tighter security. Devices and services enabled by the new protocol will have dramatic impacts on Defense Department and civilian agency applications. Additionally, the return on investment of moving to IPv6 is significant. So why are so many agencies hesitant?

For agencies that met the deadline, a new set of challenges presents itself. For example, they must find ways to use IPv6 to address mission directives more efficiently. Network consolidation, information sharing and network virtualization are areas that show the most promise of applying IPv6 to reduce cost, improve quality and introduce new capabilities. To address these challenges, we must educate leadership and transition managers on how to assess, plan and execute next-generation Internet elements beyond the backbone.

In the grand scheme of things, these are minor issues compared with the overall value that IPv6 will provide. Where would we be now if the developers of ARPAnet had decided not to move forward in an
operational environment because the next steps were too challenging? I have confidence that today’s government will do the right thing by making full use of IPv6 and its capabilities. 

Although it might not get much notice, today’s deadline is indeed significant and should generate more discussion. It is the first step on the path to the next generation of Internet services. It is the future.

Edgerton
(jerry.edgerton@commandinformation.com) is CEO of Command Information, which provides networking services to Fortune 1,000 and government entities. Edgerton has more than 30 years’ experience in the government market.

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