IPv6 Transition Crucial to Military

ARLINGTON, Va. — The terrorist attack on the Pentagon two years ago convinced the military to accelerate its transition to IPv6 , the new version of the Internet Protocol (IP) currently being reviewed by standards bodies.

John L. Osterholz, the Pentagon’s director of architecture and interoperability, told several hundred attendees at the U.S. IPv6 Summit 2003 that the current version of the Internet’s operating system, IPv4 , has been in use by the military for almost 30 years and is outdated.

IPv6 is designed to overcome the shortcomings of IPv4, such as the limited number of addresses. It also adds improvements to IPv4, such as routing and networking auto-configuration. IPv6 provides operational benefits to the Department of Defense (DoD) and private enterprise that aren’t available with the current Internet technology.

Osterholz said those additional addresses are vital for a military looking to digitize every individual solider and push data to the “very edges of the network,” including sensors, remote platforms and mobile force structures.

The Pentagon hopes to have IPv6 fully implemented within the next fours years. Osterholz said the military planned to “re-energize our role as early adapters of commercial IT products” in order to accelerate the availability of IPv6-capable security products.

“We are a nation at war and urgency is needed,” he said. “Part of our urgency is a bow wave of new technology out there. We could hot-rod IPv4 to look like IPv6 but patches don’t really work, not on an integrated package. We’d be just setting ourselves up for failure. The vulnerabilities of IPv4 are known worldwide.”

Osterholz urged a roomful of vendors that included AT&T, Cisco, Juniper Networks, NEC America, Oracle, Verio Network Services and NTT Communications to avoid building differentiation into similar products.

“We need honesty at the vendor level. Try real hard to not build differences in your products, causing us interoperability problems,” he said.

After the Pentagon lost “considerable amounts of valuable data” after the Sept. 11 attack, Osterholz said the military was forced to rethink its network structure, which also ignited the drive to IPv6.

“The way we were putting data on the network defeated the point of the network,” Osterholz said. “We realized we needed a network environment with broad access to data in a variety of places of convenience, not necessity.”

Prior to Sept. 11, “data was generally owned by those who collected it and they were responsible for getting to it those who needed it the most. Of course, that assumes they knew who needed the data.” The new Pentagon strategy is to “liberate the data,” he explained.

Osterholz said the plan included an all-out assault on the historically “impenetrable silos” that start with data and end up with products that are data-linked to a few locations and viewed by a “fortunate few.”

Osterholz added that the new generation of software products and IP-based networking capabilities demand IPv6 be the convergence layer for the military’s networks.

“We are digitizing our forces and we are becoming very mobile,” he said. “The days of putting up a radar and downloading some data are ending. We want them to stay on the network and solve problems.”

In support of the Pentagon’s efforts, the North American IPv6 Task Force announced in October the launch of North America’s largest IPv6 pilot network. Known as Moonv6, it is being deployed to provide the North American market with “strong validation” for IPv6 through testing and demonstrating the technology’s effectiveness under real-world conditions.

Taking place across the U.S. at multiple locations for the next six months, the Moonv6 project represents the most aggressive collaborative IPv6 interoperability and application demonstration event in the North American market to date.

After that, Moonv6 will continue to operate as a nationwide proving ground for industry, universities, research labs, Internet providers, application providers and government agencies, and as a tool to assist in the evolution of IPv6 for early adoption and deployment within the North American geography.

The North American IPv6 Task Force’s mission is to keep Moonv6 up and running permanently as the North American IPv6 backbone.

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