The IPv6, or Internet Protocol Version 6, deadline for the U.S. federal government to support IPv6 addresses across all externally facing Web servers is approaching fast, but not every government agency will make the cut.
The IPv6 transition -- which was imposed two years ago by Vivek Kundra, federal CIO in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) -- is an Obama administration directive seeking to provide reliable and universal government Internet services via native IPv6 rather than IPv4-to-IPv6 translation. In addition to the Sept. 30, 2012, deadline for IPv6 support on public-facing Web servers, the mandate includes a Sept. 30, 2014, deadline for the support of native IPv6 traffic across all of the federal government's internal networks.
This OMB-established IPv6 deadline is more of a guideline than a hard limit, however, and just as government agencies must ramp up their efforts to support IPv6, so must the enterprise, noted John Curran, CEO and president of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). "The deadline won't be 100% pass or fail. Each agency is making its own investment for supporting IPv6 just as each enterprise is making its own investment based on business need and whether they are more forward-leaning than the rest," he said.
IPv6 deadline: Unrealistic for the enterprise
Most enterprises are gradually moving to supporting IPv6 and will be bringing in IPv6-ready equipment during their typical technology refresh cycle, noted Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group. "The IPv6 transition will be a gradual migration for organizations -- It's not like the Mayan calendar," he said, noting that the federal mandate is just another progression on the IPv6 path, rather than a strict deadline. The government might be ahead of the enterprise in the IPv6 transition, but the emphasis should be placed on accessibility of any organization's website, regardless of whether or not IPv6 is being supported by way of translation services, he added.
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While a clear-cut IPv6 deadline is not realistic for the enterprise, the federal government's establishing a deadline for agency websites has prompted a sense of urgency in supporting IPv6 that is trickling down into the enterprise space. Some enterprises will replace legacy equipment with IPv6-enabled technology if it starts affecting their critical business processes, Laliberte said. "If an enterprise's business is predicated on having more IP addresses -- like smartphone vendors – and they can't get any, that would be a compelling business case to switch over to IPv6 more rapidly," he said.
IPv4 will never be shut off, but it will be phased out, ARIN's Curran said, noting that it is ultimately up to an organization when it will make the IPv6 transition. "[Enterprises] will be able to hobble along in IPv4 as the Internet goes on without them, and their services will work for the most part -- they just won't work as well as their competitors' [services]," he said.
IPv6 deadline a goal, not a cutoff date
The goal of the IPv6 deadline is to get as much of the content of thousands of federal websites as possible to support IPv6, Curran said. IPv4-enabled traffic won't be discontinued across externally facing government Web servers following the upcoming deadline, but the IPv6 transition mandate helps federal organizations to prioritize, he said. It will also help push enterprises and service providers to tag along.
It could take years for every government website to be compliant with the OMB mandate, but the more sites that are connected with IPv6, the more motivated service providers like Verizon and AT&T will be to enable IPv6 for its users, Curran said.
Many service providers have begun enabling IPv6 already, but if a website doesn't support the new traffic, IPv4-to-IPv6 translation is essential. "The reason the federal government is trying to move away from the use of translation services is because the [traffic being translated] is not as fast or efficient, and may not scale forever," Curran said. "It seems silly for the federal government to put effort into making resources available for citizens over the Internet and not make them available via the best means possible -- IPv6."