Report says agency planning for move to IPv6 needs improvement

With significant challenges ahead for agencies as they move to Internet Protocol Version 6, the Government Accountability Office is questioning whether the government is doing enough to be successful.

In an audit released today of 24 major agencies between August 2005 and May 2006, GAO found 10 agencies have yet to develop policies and enforcement mechanisms to ensure the transition to the new protocol. The Office of Management and Budget has given agencies until June 30, 2008, to move their network backbone to IPv6.

In fact, as of Feb. 2006, 11 agencies have not developed and implemented a test plan for IPv6 compatibility and/or interoperability, and 14 agencies have not begun IPv6-related maintenance and monitoring of their networks.

"Until agencies complete key planning activities, their transition efforts risk not being successful," auditors said in the report completed on the request of Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee. "Transitioning to IPv6 presents several challenges. All of these challenges could impede progress in transitioning to IPv6 if agencies do not address them as they proceed with transition."

GAO said the challenges include:
  • Incorporating IPv6 into their business cases. The audit agency said with few applications available for the new protocol, it would be hard for program managers and business executives to envision how IPv6 could help them meet their mission more effectively.
  • Interfacing with other agencies, the public, vendors and others during the transition period. GAO said a greater level of coordination and testing is needed to ensure connection delays and network insecurity, among other things, are minimized. "In addition, benefits that cannot be realized until all parties are communicating using IPv6 can be difficult to attain, because external partners can be in various stages of transitioning to IPv6," auditors said.
  • Maintaining dual IPv4 and IPv6 environments. GAO said it adds complexity to network maintenance, and associated costs are higher.
  • Assigning an IP address to more than one Internet service provider. This is to ensure that if one fails, the other one will be available to make the Web site function. Doing this in an IPv4 and IPv6 environment could cause routing issues, GAO said.
  • Implementing IPv6 standards. The standards are less mature, and some are still evolving, auditors said.

GAO recommended that OMB's director direct agencies to work with the CIO Council's Architecture and Infrastructure Committee and the IPv6 Working Group to address these challenges.

OMB generally agreed with the report.

Jason Miller is assistant managing editor of Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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