Beyond the lab
Lockheed plans pilot project for IPv6 transition
- By Doug Beizer
- Sep 28, 2007
Today's computer networks are mostly made up of the usual pieces: workstations, servers and switches.
But with the implementation of the new IP ? IPv6 ? networks will soon travel faster and farther than ever before. Things like missiles and onboard video systems will be part of networks. So will batteries in Humvees.
The new protocol promises to make it possible to give just about anything an IP address, and therefore it can be tied to a network.
Defense, civilian, state and local government agencies already report having significant IPv6 capability, according to a study conducted by Juniper Networks Inc. late last year. Within five years, defense agencies expect 87 percent of their systems will be IPv6 capable, the study found. Civilian agencies expect capability to reach 73 percent in five years.Multiple networks
In anticipation of the transition of massive amounts of government systems, Lockheed Martin Corp. will move a portion of its global network to IPv6 as a test project. The program is designed to include all phases of an IPv6 transition, similar to what government agencies will undertake, said Frank Cuccias, director of Lockheed Martin's IPv6 Center of Excellence.
The IPv6 pilot project will simulate a federal agency's transition from IPv4 to a dual stack that supports the old and new protocols.
"What we're doing is applying the same rules of engagement, so to speak, as the agencies face; applying requirements that the Office of Management and Budget has set out," Cuccias said. "So if they have to fill out an inventory form, we'll fill out an inventory form."
Lockheed Martin has more than 140,000 employees and multiple networks worldwide. Company officials chose a network that includes 10 sites for the test project. The sites stretch from California to the United Kingdom and include Texas, Florida, Maryland, Virginia and other locations.
"We will essentially show the federal government, from start to finish, how a transition effort works," Cuccias said. "So we are putting ourselves in their shoes."
Lockheed Martin's close working relationship with government agencies makes the company a good candidate to conduct the pilot program. The company's networks are home to everyday systems such as e-mail servers. But government-specific systems, such as flight simulators, missile command-and-control simulators, and payload systems, are also on the company's networks.
Officials expect the test project will illustrate what kind of architecture is required to support different systems in a dual-stack environment. It will highlight the issues that agencies need to consider.
The second phase of the project will install unique government systems ? unmanned aerial vehicles, rockets and satellites, and more ? onto the new infrastructure and demonstrate the expanded capabilities IPv6 offers.
"What we've been saying for the last seven years is that IPv6 is an enabler for net-centricity," Cuccias said. "So if you have a UAV flying in Afghanistan, the video payload or the GPS payload that's on that UAV can be seen through the network ? net-centricity ? to a Navy SEAL operator in theater or by someone at the Pentagon."
IPv6 should make it easier for anyone with permission to see that UAV data. Lockheed Martin officials plan to demonstrate, for example, that a sensor payload available at its Aerospace division in Texas also will automatically be available as a live feed in the United Kingdom, based on permissions and access.
"You may say, 'Well, you can do that with IPv4,'" Cuccias said. "Well, yes, you can, but when you're multiplying and securing the number of systems that can do that, IPv4 starts to break down."
With IPv6, a Joint Strike Fighter F-35 aircraft could have every system, subsystem and component addressable with a Version 6 address. Flight maintenance officers aboard aircraft carriers could monitor the health and status of the aircraft during a mission. Flight surgeons could check out the health and status of pilots before, after and during a sortie. If there was a problem, medical officials in the United States could also see the pilot's live health statistics and be able to consult with the flight surgeon in theater.Flipping the switch
Achieving that level of net-centricity won't happen with the flip of a switch. Part of the project's discovery process will be to see how those IPv4 applications will work in an IPv6 and IPv4 dual-stack environment.
The transition needs more than just laboratory testing. "What we're doing is putting a little distance and reality into it," Cuccias said.
Lockheed Martin officials will examine how applications work from the United Kingdom to California, going through all the latency and delay issues normally found on a wide-area network.
The test will also examine the security aspects of dual stack. Partners will be brought in to attack the network and see if new vulnerabilities arise when operating a dual-stack infrastructure. If vulnerabilities do arise, Lockheed Martin will design countermeasures.
Even though many pieces of today's networks are IPv6 capable, Cuccias said, agencies should take the time to test infrastructures and applications before making the full-scale transition to IPv6.
"You can think just because a company says we run IPv6 or dual stack that everything is going to be fine once you turn it on," he said. "But your dashboard gauges and thresholds might skyrocket once you turn on v6, and then your network may slow to a crawl and then finally choke and die. Well, that's not a success story. Nobody wants to be a newspaper headline for their network shutting down."Staff writer Doug Beizer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.