U.S. federal government officials are confident they will meet a June 30 deadline to support IPv6 on their backbone networks, but they see challenges ahead in transitioning their production networks to this long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol.
Challenges cited by federal IPv6 leaders include the lack of IPv6-enabled security devices and software applications available in the commercial marketplace as well as budgetary constraints and training hurdles.
IPv6 represents a major upgrade to the Internet. It replaces the current version of the Internet Protocol, known as IPv4, with a new and improved version that features vastly more IP addresses along with built-in security and network management enhancements. The Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet's premier standards-setting body, created IPv6 in 1995.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a requirement in 2005 that all U.S. federal agencies must be capable of passing IPv6 packets on their backbone networks by June 30, 2008.
Karen Evans, OMB administrator for E-Government and Information Technology, said in March that she expects agencies to meet the June 30 deadline. She wouldn't comment on penalties an agency would face if it missed the deadline.
Evans is encouraging federal agencies to continue working toward production-level IPv6 deployments despite the challenges they have expressed meeting the June deadline.
"We want agencies to take advantage of the business opportunities afforded to their missions with the implementation of IPv6,'' Evans said in a statement. "We feel it is important for agencies to modernize their network infrastructure to support emerging IPv6 applications and technologies and to minimize the risk associated with the products [that] are already IPv6 enabled.''
Pete Tseronis, co-chair of the Federal CIO Council's IPv6 Working Group, says OMB's June 30 IPv6 deadline is more of a recommendation than a mandate.
"We don't like the term mandate,'' Tseronis says. "It's what agencies should be doing as part of their tech refresh anyway. The federal government took an initiative by way of OMB to rally support for IPv6 and to get all the federal agencies engaged in the discussion about IPv6. June 30 is the first real milestone of what we hope will be a successful deployment of IPv6.''
Agencies are required to submit quarterly reports to OMB that include their IPv6 progress. "To date, there have been no agencies that appear to be saying: We will not be meeting the June deadline,'' Tseronis says.
Meeting the OMB requirements for IPv6 is a pass/fail process. Among the agencies that have already achieved compliance with OMB's IPv6 requirements are the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, and the Social Security Administration, Tseronis says.
"I'm very optimistic'' that most federal agencies will meet OMB's IPv6 deadline, Tseronis says. "Are people going to do it at the 11th hour and stay up all night? Possibly.''