With IPv6, DOD is again an Internet leader

The United States is behind the curve on deployment of the next generation of Internet protocols, but the Defense Department's decision to transition to IP Version 6 is helping to move the nation ahead, said Alex Lightman, chairman of the U.S. IPv6 Summit.

"It signals the return of DOD to Internet leadership," Lightman said in an interview with GCN. "The department really is seeking a consensus with industry and other government agencies."

Networking experts from government, industry and academia are attending the three-day IPv6 summit in Reston, Va. Many are there to listen to DOD plans for moving to IPv6 under Charles Lynch, head of DOD's IPv6 Transition Office.

The Internet protocols are the rules defining how computers and other devices communicate with each other. Most hardware and software today use IPv4, which has been in use for more than 20 years. During the 1990s the Internet community developed Version 6, which has a greatly expanded address space and added support for mobility and security.

Base networking products such as routers supporting Version 6 began coming to market in 2000. Japan, which has mandated governmentwide adoption of the new protocols, now has more than half of the world's IPv6 users. South Korea is not far behind, primarily because of its leadership in wireless networking.

In the United States, DOD last year announced plans to migrate its Global Information Grid Network to IPv6 by 2008.

Despite the attention paid to the DOD transition, few agencies are following suit. "It's a little surprising to me how low this is on their radar," IPv6 Summit Chairman Lightman said. "Congress is not behind it. Chuck Lynch is the only one with a budget for it, and he's fighting to keep it."

Budgets for the individual military services' transition plans do not kick in until fiscal 2006.

But the DOD transition still is the biggest game in town, Lightman said. "I don't see a natural champion outside of DOD emerging."

Although its IT budget ? and hence its influence -- is large, DOD nevertheless will have to gain the cooperation of industry to make its shift. More IPv6-ready applications will be needed, along with more networking equipment with IPv6 implemented in hardware, not just software.

"DOD realizes it has to reach out to vendors and that a massive transition still has to happen," Lightman said.

Fortunately, the department has the credibility to help move industry and the rest of government, Lightman said. But the process will be a slow one.

"It's like turning an oil tanker," he said."

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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