Survey: Feds aren't aware of IPv6 benefits

A Juniper survey says feds don't know that IP Version 6 could improve cybersecurity, network management and network quality of service.

Federal officials could have the answer to many of their network problems at their fingertips without realizing it, according to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office and one vendor's research.

The answer is IP Version 6 (IPv6), which could improve agencies' quality of service, cybersecurity and network management. Those are their top concerns, according to a study Juniper Networks recently released.

Despite the apparent solution, only 7 percent of the study's respondents considered IPv6 to be very important in helping agencies meet their information technology goals. The majority, 64 percent, said they do not have a written transition plan to move from IPv4 to IPv6. Moreover, 60 percent of respondents believe that IPv6 will play no role in helping them achieve their IT goals or are unsure if it will play any role.

A GAO report, also released last month, supports Juniper's survey. The GAO report found that except for the Defense Department, federal agencies in general have not even started planning for a move to IPv6.

GAO's report also concluded that the migration is already under way, however, because many agencies use IPv6-capable hardware and software.

Juniper and other companies have an opportunity to educate managers about IPv6 and its ability to solve problems, said Thomas Kreidler, vice president for federal systems at Juniper. That also creates a marketing opportunity for Juniper, Cisco Systems and other companies that provide IPv6 networks.

Juniper's survey included government and private-sector organizations.

Rod Murchison, senior director of product management at the company, said he assumed that federal officials had a better understanding of IPv6 than the study revealed.

"Because we assumed this going into the survey, we were a little bit surprised at some of the responses," he said. "This is a drastic gap in education."

Compared with the private sector, 35 percent of government officials believed IPv6 to be very or somewhat important to achieving IT goals. Among private-sector officials, 46 percent thought so.

When asked to identify their chief challenges in moving to IPv6, 30 percent of the 349 respondents named budget constraints. Another 35 percent said they had no compelling reason to make the move, while 17 percent said they faced technology restrictions. And 12 percent said their organizations' managers were not interested.

Murchison said some of those factors are easier to overcome than others.

"We're going to be able to show compelling reasons," he said. "The budget issue is much tougher."

Murchison said he believes IPv6 has suffered from an identity problem as it evolved and people became more aware of the technology. IPv6 initially became known for its expanded address space.

IPv4's 32-bit addressing produces the familiar IP address consisting of four number fields with no more than three digits apiece, separated by dots. Under IPv4, about 4.3 billion unique addresses are available.

IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, expressed as eight fields of numbers up to four digits long. That allows 3.4 x 1038 addresses. If the Earth's population doubled every year and every man, woman and child claimed a unique address, it would take almost a century to run out of IP addresses.

Many people thought the expanded address space was the only new feature of the protocol, Murchison said. "I think that misconception was so strong early on, it turned into [a sense of,] 'That's the only reason for IPv6,'" he said.

However, Ben Schultz, IPv6 managing engineer at the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Lab, cautioned against viewing IPv6 as a panacea. Some of the claims that companies and advocates make about its security, he said, have not been proven in lab tests.

He said some of the sense of urgency might be exaggerated. Although some governments are ahead of the United States, Schultz questioned how quickly most countries and their technology companies are moving.

"With the exception of Japan, I see no real equipment vendors outside" the United States, he said.

Alex Lightman, chief executive officer of the IPv6 Coalition Summit, said U.S. agencies are already falling behind other governments in implementing the new technology.

"What I would say is the U.S. government is being very stupid [by] not doing IPv6, and it's going to put us at a competitive disadvantage," he said.

Japan, China and other Asian nations are leading the way, Lightman added. The common factor linking all of the early leaders is that they have government mandates to upgrade their networks and the requisite funding to fulfill them.

Lightman recommended a similar solution for U.S. agencies.

"If you don't make them all do it, they'll all point at each other and say, 'Why do I have to when he isn't doing it?'" he said.

Data comparison

Juniper Networks surveyed 349 private-sector and government information technology managers about their attitudes toward IP Version 6. Below is a sample of the survey results.


Sector

GovernmentPrivate
Aware of IPv654%69%
Have a written IPv6 transition plan7%10%
Consider IPv6 very or somewhat important for achieving IT goals35%46%
Source: Juniper Networks

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