June 30, 2008 is the deadline set by the US Government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for federal agencies to be up and running with IPv6. In order to have a smooth transition to v6, these agencies ought to have in place their inventories of the related hardware and software requirements and also have formulated a definitive game plan for implementation, not the least important of which is the procurement of products and services.
What seems to be making the process a bit slow is that a clear picture is yet to emerge as to the entire gamut of functions that the next generation Internet is going to be capable of. The transition will involve considerable investment in time and resources at several levels: refurbishing the network infrastructure, developing software, testing of equipment and services and training of personnel. Federal agencies would apparently like to tread cautiously, taking it one step at a time, until the capabilities list becomes clearer. As John McManus, co-chair, IPv6 Working Group sees it, installing IPv6-capable network backbones “is the beginning of a long evolution of the network.” The crux of the issue is, in his own words: “Getting the core networks ready to route IPv6 traffic successfully will be an important milestone, but that’s not the end of the road. We also need to start thinking about how we will take advantage of these new capabilities.”
DOD & IPv6
Even as of June 2003, John Stenbit, then-Defense Department CIO had mandated that effective October of the same year, all Global Information Grid assets that were being developed, or acquired had to be IPv6 capable as well as interoperable with the department’s existing IPv4 installations.
Not surprisingly, the US Department of Defense, fully geared to its objective of network-centric warfare, is currently the front runner in IPv6 adoption, while several other federal agencies are yet to get off to a good start. Again, the advantages to be gained from transitioning to IPv6 will only be realized over time for most agencies, while the Defense Department is highly likely to realize very tangible benefits in the immediate future. For instance, as Thomas McCrickard, III, Chief of the DOD IPv6 Transition Office says, “Today, sensors, platforms, weapons and forces are being built as ‘net-ready’ nodes, incorporating IP-based protocols,” In a fully networked military environment, soldiers, sensors, weapons, vehicles, computers, communications systems and platforms are seamlessly inter-connected so they are able to communicate in an ‘always on’ mode.
Examples of existing systems that are already being deployed, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), having the ability to transmit without interruption, tactical and strategic data to command centers and to soldiers in the field. However, the best is yet to come, and IPv6 is arguably the answer to the limitations of the existing version of the Internet protocol. With its features providing for greater security, enhanced QoS for mobile communications, video-conferencing and improved routing, IPv6 is the ultimate panacea for the DOD to realize its dream of a fully mobile, networked military. According to Thomas McCrickard III, Chief of the Pentagon’s IPv6 Transition Office, there are certain crucial steps to having a seamless, trouble free transition:
- Early planning;
- Training for those involved with the management and planning of the transition so they can develop an effective transition strategy;
- Enterprise-wide adoption of transition policies and a realistic assessment of IPv6 address requirements;
- An integrated approach to managing the transition with centralized coordination in place fortackling commonly arising issues;
- A firm plan for the acquisition of IPv6 capable systems under the technology refresh cycles and ways to minimize costs incidental to IPv6 transition;
- Effective use of commercial/industry standards and products.
- Controlled deployment of IPv6 capabilities after verifying the operational requirements;
While going through the exercise of installing IPv6-capable backbones, it’s more than likely that deploying agencies are more fixated on meeting the deadline than thinking through the next steps. The benefits to come are arguably enormous, and must not be lost sight of in the race to be compliant. When agencies begin to use IPv6 capable applications and solutions, they will begin to see the larger picture emerge. Sean Siler, Program Manager for IPv6 deployment and field readiness at Microsoft, suggests that agencies about to embark on the transition must first select an existing business application that is core to its business objectives, and set to work on adapting that application to IPv6. “If an agency begins that process now, then it will have one application ready to run when the IPv6 backbone is rolled out.”
Funding the Costs of Transition
The Office of Management and Budget has not provided for any special funding for federal agencies to carry out the transition to IPv6, based on the argument that agencies can manage the process by dipping into their existing technology refresh budgets for upgrading their networks. While the officials responsible for managing the transition are generally convinced about this, they expect that there would be many other incidental expenses arising out of the transitional process, such as costs of testing networks and new devices, consultancy and training of personnel, research and development that will have to be met.
According to Shawn McCarthy, Director of Research for government vendor programs for IDC’s Government Insights, the estimated expenditure by federal agencies was about $56.5 million in 2007. A report by RTI International for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released in October 2005, estimates that federal agencies will incur close to $1.5 billion over the next five years, and $4.6 billion over the coming two decades in the process of transitioning to IPv6.
Most federal agencies have already completed the inventories of their network infrastructures like routers and switches to assess the upgrade requirements for meeting the June 2008 deadline. They have also submitted their Impact Analysis data covering the cost estimations, and risk assessments together with an update on progress to the OMB. In the run up to the deadline, the following events were scheduled: The OMB on its part provides an evaluation of the transition plans submitted by the respective agencies, highlighting gaps or inadequacies if any that may be found, and gives a direction on the next steps to be followed by agencies for staying on course.
Next, the government will come out with a final Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rule basing on which agencies can proceed to buy IPv6 products in line with the guidelines. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has also issued a draft “standards profile” for detailing the technical specifications and standards required by the government for agencies to be equipped with IPv6 capabilities. The profile will give agencies and vendors a yardstick for assessing whether products and services are IPv6 capable, and is to that extent a very valuable document in the transition process. Vendors have a valid basis for testing their products, and agencies can weigh different options that will help ease the smooth transition from an IPv4 enabled system to the new generation Internet.
Cisco and Juniper are the major network vendors who have been making IPv6-compatible equipment for several years now. Microsoft’s new operating system Vista is geared to IPv6 switch over. But there is a long way to go yet with suitable hardware and software programs to be in place.
The DOD has released a detailed guide titled IPv6 Standard Profiles for IPv6 Capable Products that can serve as a guide for agencies. When drafting their requests for proposals Federal agencies should be clear about their requirements. They should ascertain from vendors whether they offer:
- Technical training or other educational inputs as part of the service contract.
- Training for both network administrators and non-technical personnel
- Instructors with experience installing an IPv6 network
- Performance of the routers and switches provided, in a dual-stack environment devices that would enable the agency to translate from IPv4 to IPv6 and back again, or tunnel through IPv4 networks
- Compatibility or interoperability testing; software development services
Reference: IPv6 on the dotted line: The time’s right for RFPs to address IPv6; here’s what you need for the transition. By Dan Tynan, Special to GCN http://www.gcn.com/print/25_24/41637-1.html IPv6: The future is now: Implementation deadline looms for government agencies. By Dan Tynan http://www.washingtontechnology.com/print/21_17/29229-1.html
Tech Watch IPv6: The Path Forward, Military to see immediate benefits in IPv6 transition