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Is the U.S. Ready For The IPv6 Challenge?

One year from now the U.S. government will be running IPv6 across its IT infrastructure. Maybe.

In the third volume of its report to the government about IPv6 transition, Juniper Networks outlined some of the key challenges and initiatives the government will have to undertake in order to meet the federally mandated IPv6 transition deadline of June 2008.

"Many people believe the challenges will be technical, but these challenges are secondary to the coordination effort," Tim LeMaster, director of systems engineering for the public sector at Juniper Networks, told internetnews.com.

"While there is coordination between government organizations via the IPv6 Working Group, and NIST has undertaken an effort to standardize what it means to be IPv6 capable, there has been little in terms of how government organizations should proceed for the purpose of what organizations should be going after in fiscal 2008."

IPv6 is the next-generation IP that dramatically expands available IP address space. In August 2005, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandated a U.S. government transition by 2008. At this point, Juniper expects that government agencies should be acquiring IPv6 addressing and acquiring enough to support the transition and beyond.

Moving to IPv6 does not, however, mean that the government should leave IPv4 behind. The Juniper report outlines the considerations the government must take for routing in a combined IPv4/IPv6 environment.

Whatever the route to IPv6 will be, the costs of transition for the U.S. government could well be staggering. In 2005 after the release of an earlier Juniper report, the figure of $75 billion was discussed as the potential cost of transition.

Juniper's LeMaster tempered the $75 billion figure somewhat by noting that Juniper Networks' IPv6 survey last fall showed that government respondents believed that IPv6 would "influence" the expenditure of 62 billion IT dollars by 2008.

"This does not imply new spending or $62 billion to transition to IPv6, but will be in the form of planned IT expenditures that will now have IPv6 requirements included during the acquisition process," LeMaster said. "Many believe that the cost of transitioning to IPv6 will be significantly reduced by purchasing IPv6-capable products with current levels of IT funding for technology refresh."

Among the costs associated with transitioning to IPv6 will be planning, testing, operations and support, though those costs will vary by agency.

So with one year to go, will the U.S. be ready in time? The answer is a qualified yes.

"The mandate requires that government agencies transition their core networks by fiscal '08," LeMaster explained. "Depending on the current infrastructure of an agency, this can be accomplished."

In cases where a government agency has older core networking technologies, LeMaster noted the transition timeframe may be more difficult to achieve.

"The biggest near-term technical challenge for the government is to transition the .gov DNS domain to IPv6-capable," LeMaster said. "Otherwise no IPv6 entities will be able to talk on the network."

Security is the next big issue that the government's IPv6 transition must address after taking care of .gov. LeMaster alleged that at this point there is no clear guidance as to how a federal agency should implement IPv6 and ensure that it is secure.

He suggested that the best advice at this point in time is to follow existing security processes and test everything before deploying. Not everything needs to be done by June of 2008, though.

"The important thing to remember is that the OMB mandate is only the first step in a long transition," LeMaster said.

"While Juniper Networks is working hard to make networks easier to transition, effort needs to be placed on supporting the development of and planning for the tens of thousands of applications that need to be transitioned."