IPv6 is the biggest upgrade in the 40-year history of the Internet. Forward-looking carriers and enterprises are deploying IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices -- 2 to the 128th power.
About 94.5 percent of IPv4 address space has been allocated as of Sept. 3, 2010, according to ARIN. Experts say IPv4 addresses could run out as early as this December but will certainly be gone by the end of 2011.This is the second time the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has established a mandate for federal agencies related to the deployment of IPv6. Back in 2005, the Bush Administration established and later met a deadline of June 2008 for all federal agencies to demonstrate IPv6 connectivity over their backbone networks.
Kundra's follow-on IPv6 directive was met with a positive reaction among industry experts, who said the deadlines were reasonable.
"It's pragmatic," Mohan says. "They are saying that by fall 2012 they will get their outward-facing systems compatible with IPv6 and that by the end of fiscal 2014 they will get everything internal done. On top of that, they are assigning IPv6 managers inside government. I thought one of the best things they did was the fourth directive, which [requires] agencies to be fully IPv6 compatible."
Mohan said it would have been difficult for the U.S. government to reach a deadline sooner than September 30, 2012 to add IPv6 capabilities to all public-facing websites and services. That's because so many IPv6 products that are sold today are not fully compatible with the IPv6 specifications, with IPv6 products from other vendors, and with existing IPv4 products and services.
"Pushing a faster date won't necessarily create a faster implementation because there are a tremendous number of technical issues with IPv6," Mohan said, pointing out that there is no load balancing system on the market today that is fully IPv6 compatible. "I think the federal directive will expose a lot of the holes that those of us on the front lines of IPv6 enablement know about, and hopefully by sometime next year many of those will be fixed."
Curran says that having the U.S. government as an early adopter of IPv6 capabilities on its websites will help carriers and IT vendors by giving them a large potential customer base for their IPv6-enabled offerings.
"We did hear concerns at the panel today about getting production-quality, high-performance firewalls, load balancers and network management gear that supports IPv6,"Curran says. "Those vendors haven't seen a customer base appear before…Now we have the federal government saying that it is going to be buying this equipment as part of its initiative to make its websites support IP6. The equipment will be there when the enterprise goes to look for it."
Curran has been urging website operators to embrace IPv6 by January 2012, but he said the federal government's deadline of September 2012 is not nine months too late.