After a little over a month of meeting directly with agency IT officials, the panel tasked with implementing the government’s transition to the newest Internet addressing protocol is turning its focus to both the capabilities and the implementation schedules of the service providers that link agencies to the public Internet.
The federal Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) task force has been meeting with roughly four agencies per week since mid-November to discuss their progress toward meeting the Office of Management and Budget’s 2012 implementation deadline. Those meetings are scheduled to continue through January, but one potential hurdle has already emerged.
Peter Tseronis, chairman of the CIO Council’s IPv6 task force, said discussions with agencies had raised his suspicion about whether Internet service providers (ISP) will be able to meet the government’s timeline.
“Without naming names, there are folks who have let me know, ‘our carriers aren’t sure if they’re ready yet,'” he said in an interview after the panel with Federal News Radio. “When you hear that once, twice, three times and the trend develops, you’ve got to sit down and find out for sure. So we want to go right to [the General Services Administration] who set up the Networx contract and then hopefully learn and get a status.”
Tseronis said agencies should press their Internet vendors to make sure that their connections are fully IPv6 capable well in advance of OMB’s Sept. 30, 2012 deadline so that program managers have plenty of time to test their internal systems on the new protocol.
In September, OMB issued a memorequiring all agencies to have their external servers and IT services running IPv6 natively.
“We’re going to get validation, because we’re hearing conflicting reports,” Tseronis said. “An agency will not be successful unless the service provider is. And the service provider in any kind of master plan needs to be ready before the agency can declare victory.”
According to the mathematical models used by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) — the independent body that serves as a clearinghouse for most of North America’s IP addresses — the global supply of the older IPv4 addresses that have been in use since the dawn of the Internet will be completely exhausted in a little more than two months.
After that, in principle at least, any new device that needs to connect to the Internet will have to be assigned an IPv6 address, said John Curran, ARIN’s president.
“The public Internet is going to v6,” he said. “If you are v4-only on your public-facing servers, we’ll deal with you. You are challenged. We’ll figure out a way to get to you. You’re in a race to figure out how to keep your website accessible and relevant. Every business is in a race to do this. The people who actually rely on having great communication, whose businesses are based on their successful websites working and performing well are companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, CNN. Every one of these sites is IPv6 enabled today.”
Curran said that for a period of perhaps several years, while IPv4 and IPv6 coexist on the Internet, communication between computers and servers will rely on specialized devices patched into service providers’ networks to translate between the two protocols. But he predicted those devices will quickly become overloaded, and that before long, ISPs will stop offering support for IPv4-only communication altogether.
But agencies shouldn’t look at the IPv6 transition as merely a problem to be solved, said Andrew McLaughlin, federal deputy chief technology officer.
Aside from future-proofing systems and allowing for dramatically more address space on the Internet, there are numerous other benefits, he said.
“After Y2K was done, nobody really got any great benefit from it,” he McLaughlin. “The important thing about this transition is that it does matter. It does provide capabilities and security that really are going to benefit people. We’re going to get an Internet protocol that is better designed for the security needs of the organizations that we all run and work for. And, critically, it’s going to enable us to realize the true potential of a properly end-to-end Internet. And for some of the real-time services that we like to be able to run – the fully synchronous up-and-down flows of traffic that we want to enable for real time video, real time audio, and really realizing the full potential of the Internet, it’s going to work much, much better if we can provide full end-to-end addressing.”
Tseronis said in addition to verifying the timelines for service providers’ IPv6 readiness, his task force would be working with agency procurement officials to make sure that they understand their agencies’ needs for IPv6 and the v6 provisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulations.
“Acquisition seems to be something that I’m honing in on as an issue that wasn’t there a while ago,” he said. “We’ve got the FAR language now that requires agencies to procure products that use the Internet to be compliant with the v6 profile. But educating the acquisition community on v6—what you’re putting in an RFP, what you’re receiving, how you validate that—there’s a synergy between operations and acquisition that’s huge here.”
Asked by an audience member at the panel discussion about how agencies could meet the costs of transitioning to IPv6 with flat budgets, Curran replied that many agencies are already well-prepared, but those that aren’t have not been doing an optimal job of ongoing tech refresh.
“It’s not a separate program, it’s a new way of doing Internet-connected systems,” Curran said. “If you don’t have the money to do it and it’s a lot of money, it means you haven’t been planning your infrastructure over the years to be v6-connected. Some of your other CIOs have. Go talk to them. Cry. Ask forgiveness. But this should not have been a surprise to anyone. We’ve had five years of memorandums that say you’re going to have to do this.”
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