Special IPv6 report | The promise of opportunities
Contractors look beyond the deadline
- By Doug Beizer
- Feb 07, 2008
Seconds count when it comes to warning people about
an earthquake. Just a few moments can be the difference
between being at risk in a dangerous area or
making it to a safe shelter. NTT America developed an
IPv6 Internet-based Earthquake Early Warning
System that warns people in Japan of imminent earthquakes.
Similar to the U.S. Emergency Alert System, it alerts
people via fixed, mobile and wireless IPv6-enabled devices. It
tells users what the scale of the earthquake will be and when it
One of the great promises of the new Internet protocol, IPv6,
is the ability to assign IP address to just about anything. The protocol
also makes it easier to quickly create ad hoc networks that could
benefit an array of applications like NTT's earthquake alert system.
The promise of new and improved applications that take advantage
of IPv6 led to the federal government's adoption of the protocol.
An Office of Management and Budget mandate requires all
government agencies to make their core networks IPv6-capable by
June. There are no IPv6 mandates for civilian agencies after the
deadline, but a number of systems integrators and network and
application providers expect agencies to slowly start moving to the
protocol once their networks can run it.
Opportunities remain to help agencies meet the June deadline,
say information technology company officials. And the opportunities
around IPv6 will continue to grow as new applications are
To comply with the deadline, agencies
must show they can move IPv6 packets
across their core networks.
"That is a pretty straightforward
requirement," said Walt Grabowski,
vice president of marketing at SI
International Inc. "So if I'm an agency
right now, I'm looking to demonstrate
something that is almost at the basis
Several other IT company officials
agreed with Grabowski that agencies
are ready for the basic OMB mandate.
"All of our customers are going to
meet the deadline," said Paul Girardi,
director of engineering at AT&T
Government Solutions. "They have
different plans and objectives, but
nonetheless, they're ready to go."
The top makers of core network
devices, such as routers and switches,
tend to be on the cutting edge of IPv6
technology, experts say. Integrators and
agencies that have invested
in IPv6 equipment
should not worry about
"If an agency has
thought about the June
deadline and they've
done some upgrades or
added equipment that
provides basic IPv6
services, then they should be good to go,"
AT&T is transitioning its customers to the
new networks and setting up testing environments
to help federal IT employees get comfortable
with IPv6.THE BUSINESS CASE
"We have a two-prong attack. We need to have
and be able to offer an IPv6 service that makes
up the core for these agencies," Girardi said.
"So the first thing we've been doing is rolling
out an IPv6 service, the networking infrastructure
back end that supports IPv6 packets."
After establishing an
agencies will have to
adhere to a profile being
developed by the National
Institute of Standards and
"The profile is a much
richer description of what IPv6 means and
what a system that fully supports IPv6 should
be capable of doing," Grabowski said. "So the
profile is looking further into the future. The
profile is very important to the developers of
systems and the manufacturers of systems as
they make determinations regarding what
should be in a piece of hardware or a piece of
The Defense Department has its own basic
IPv6 profile, which NIST is using as input for
its profile. Industry officials want NIST to
reconcile its profile with DOD's.
"In general, agencies are going to get
through the June 2008 deadline, and
then it's going to be a business-case
decision that leads them to turning on
IPv6 and eventually taking advantage
of it," said Alan Sekelsky, director of IP
engineering at SI International.
Without deadlines, each agency will
look at its business needs, refresh cycles
and budgets to determine the extent to
which it will enable IPv6. It is uncertain
when applications enticing enough to
lure government will be developed.
One of the biggest benefits of IPv6 is
expected to be peer-to-peer capabilities
that will make it easy for devices, sensors
and other pieces of equipment to
talk to one another.
"How near in the future [will that]
be available? We just don't know
because until everybody else is on IPv6,
it won't be effective," said William
Clark, CA Inc.'s public sector chief technology
officer. "If I do a peer-to-peer IPv6
application and 90 percent of the world
can't see me, then I don't have a market
necessarily for that application."NEXT STEPS
In the short term, systems integrators should
focus on infrastructure management as agencies
move to IPv6. Agencies will be forced to
support today's protocol, IPv4, and IPv6 for
years via so-called dual-stack networks.
"Integrators will need to make sure that
government departments and agencies running
in a dual-stack environment aren't
tripping over protocols," said Allan Sontra,
CA's public-sector technology specialist.
If, for example, a 10 megabit circuit is
90 percent full with IPv4 traffic, network
administrators need to protect that. If a new
IPv6 application tries to use 50 percent of the
same network, there will be problems, he said.
Most agencies don't have a lot of operational
experience with IPv6. Many are still doing lab
work to ensure they understand how to manage
that type of network. Services aimed at
helping agencies run both protocols could be fruitful for contractors, said Tim
LeMaster, director of systems engineering
at Juniper Networks.
So agency operators and network
engineers will have to troubleshoot,
operate and maintain a dual stack
for a number of years.FOCUS ON SECURITY
The systems integrator community
must also ensure that as IPv6 is
deployed, it doesn't introduce new
security exposures. IPv6 makes it
easy for every device to be visible
on a network, but that is not always
wise from a security perspective.
"That introduces some new and
interesting security concerns,"
Sontra said. "We have customers
that want to make sure devices they
don't want the rest of the world to
see are indeed hidden from view."
The Defense Research and
Engineering office is among the
many DOD organizations that have
invested heavily in IPv6. "They've
done some analysis on how to manage
a dual stack and the impact
of that," LeMaster said. "They
haven't found dual stack to be
much more challenging than a single
Network backbones like Defense
Research and Engineering's will
enable the services and applications
IPv6 will offer. The next wave of
work will be on those applications
"It's hard to create IPv6 applications
if the infrastructure doesn't
support them, so this is laying the
foundation," LeMaster said. "A lot of
applications will come into existence
over the next five years for things we
haven't really thought yet."Doug Beizer (email@example.com)
is a staff writer at Washington Technology.