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IPv6 Government Progress, Benefits and Concerns

I've been speaking with government IT executives and reading the progress reports for the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) mandate to achieve IPv6 compliance for network infrastructure equipment such as switches, routers and hardware firewalls by the June 30, 2008 deadline. The skinny of the mandate is that agencies must be able to:

  • Transmit IPv6 web traffic from a LAN through the network backbone to another LAN;
  • Transmit IPv6 web traffic from a LAN through the network backbone to the Internet and outside peers; and
  • Transmit IPv6 web traffic from the Internet and external peers to the LAN.

Keep in mind the directive only requires that network equipment be able to carry both IPv6 and IPv4 traffic. There is not a requirement that federal agencies actually use IPv6 at this point; however, I'm encouraged to see many government IT leaders and OCIO (Office of the CIO) personnel are pushing their new infrastructures with increased utilization.

The benefits of IPv6 adoption are clearly more understood now than prior to the OMB directive. It seems the most cited and appreciated benefits by government IT managers include a greatly expanded 128 bit address space (over IPv4's 32 bit space), end to end network control and performance, improved peer-to-peer IP traffic security, enhanced wireless and mobility features and more efficient system administration.

However, not all of the news is good. A GCN report released in February indicated that 74% of federal IT Managers were not aware of administration's IPv6 transition policy - ouch! The same poll found that only 42% of federal IT Managers' agencies had determined how existing infrastructure will support IPv6 packets - a whopping 30% didn't know and 28% had not determined this basic tenant.

Another clear theme from all of my discussions is that system administration training will be the key that ultimately determines whether this new IT roll out is a boon or a bane. The management of IPv6 requires new thinking and advanced planning. As Sean Siler, an IPv6 Program Manager for Microsoft points out, "With IPv6, one subnet is as large as the entire Internet is today." With the new Internet protocol, each federal agency will now have tens of thousands of subnets. The near inexhaustible range of IP addresses will certainly become unwieldy if not planned in advance and a systemic structure applied. The best recommendation I've heard so far is to develop an IP address methodology that incorporates the most salient organizational factors, such as geography and architectural components, so that intelligence is attributed to the numbering scheme, network resources aren't wasted and overly complex routing tables can be avoided. The old IPv4 make it up as you go method will no longer suffice. The second best recommendation I've heard so far is to invest in early in system administration training.

Posted February 2, 2008 in IT Mandates
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IPv4 Deplete Date?
When will ipv4 network addresses be fully exhausted?
Posted by Julian on March 1, 2008

No Definitive Date
I've seen estimates over the last few years which share little consistency, implying to me that the estimates should be taken with caution as the experts really don't know. The most cited estimates come from Cisco which claims IPv4 addresses could be gone by 2009 or 2010 (hmmm ..., doesn't that company sell networking equipment?) and APNIC which projects they could last through 2023.
Posted by Howard on March 1, 2008


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