RealTime IT News

What's Next for IPv6 in the U.S.?

Wired government
The U.S. government operates one of the largest technology infrastructures on Earth, and it's all supposed to be IPv6-ready.

At least, that was the plan.

A three-year-old mandate for IPv6 usage, put into place by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), went into effect June 30. That order required all government agencies to have the ability to transmit IPv6 , the next generation of the Internet Protocol at the heart of online communications.

But passing of the deadline doesn't mean that U.S. government agencies have actually begun using IPv6 for transit. In fact, even with experts predicting that the current IPv4 Internet addressing scheme will be exhausted by 2010, the vast majority of all traffic in the country remains IPv4.

"Now that the mandate has passed, it hasn't resulted in a significant increase in IPv6 traffic, and not many agencies are running dual IPv4/IPv6 stacks," Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest Government Services, told InternetNews.com.

OMB spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The OMB mandate requires government agencies to be able to demonstrate compatibility with IPv6 -- specifically, that they can both send and receive IPv6 traffic. The rule doesn't require government agencies to actually run IPv6 for Internet transport on a daily basis.

The mandate was first announced in 2005, giving agencies nearly three years to get ready. And while government network contractors agree that much still remains to be done, meeting the mandate should not have been too difficult, observers said.

For instance, Christopher Davis, IPv6 product manager at NTT America, said his company recommends dual IPv4/IPv6 stacks as a simple way to meet the OMB mandate.

"Routers and operating systems have all been capable of running dual-stack for quite some time, so it's less of a nightmare than people might think," Davis told InternetNews.com. "If you're going to renumber your entire network with IPv6, that's a different undertaking, but you don't have to do that to meet the mandate."

Vendors also have made tools and services available to help network administrators assess their needs.

"Qwest offers federal customers an independent certification tool that scans devices and pings them to check for IPv6 compatibility," Gowen said.

Despite such capabilities and tools, getting from the current low level of IPv6 readiness to actually having the government running IPv6 for transit is still some time away, observers said.

The chief selling point for IPv6 has long been the fact that IPv4 address space is almost used up. Nevertheless, the issue alone hasn't been enough of a driver according to Dave Siegel, Global Crossing's vice president of IP and data services product management.

He said that's because both government and U.S. businesses have been able to manage quite well with their current allocations, thanks to the use of Network Address Translation (NAT) .

[cob:Pull_Quote]"There is definitely a desire to move to IPv6 in order for us to stay on the same playing field with some of the threats that our nation faces from other nations that are currently running IPv6," Scott Camarotti, Siegel's colleague and vice president of federal markets at Global Crossing, told InternetNews.com.

U.S. businesses and government agencies also haven't felt the pressure to upgrade because the U.S. enjoys a huge proportion of available IPv4 addresses -- due to the country being an early mover in the Internet itself.

"I don't think that our country is in the lead, but we're not lagging substantially either," Siegel said. "The mandate, at the time that it came out, was very forward-thinking. But just as a matter of a lack of available IPv4 addresses, other countries like China have been forced to accelerate adoption -- just because of address availability."

Most agreed that IPv6 won't gain significant traction until after the end of the Bush Administration's term of office.

"OMB issued the mandate in hopes of making the federal government the catalyst for a nationwide adoption of IPv6," Qwest's Gowen said. "However, it is going to be up to the next administration to push for it. I think a year from now there will be a greater need for IPv6 because of an increased demand for security."

Page 2: Looking ahead