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IPv6: Prepare for the possibilities

IPv6 is not a fad technology movement. Find out what do you need to do to ensure that your agency is ready for the next generation of Internet technologies.

On a recent business trip, I rented a car with the "NeverLost" GPS system. The NeverLost unit guides you around the city with detailed maps. A stern but friendly voice growls directions so you can drive around with confidence that you will get to your meeting on time.

Ten years ago, you were lucky to get a CD player and decent legroom in a rental car. Today, you have an autopilot made possible by advancements from military and satellite technology and mobile Internet applications. In the future, this technology will provide real-time updates for things like traffic and weather reports.

Like these GPS-based technologies, the Web as we know it today emerged in the early 1990s from a 20-year old government networking experiment. If you look at how far we have come in just the past ten years, you can only imagine what the next ten will bring. Yet we take for granted that future applications in both commercial and military environments will continue to advance rapidly using the same Internet technology that is barely 30 years old.

In fact, the Internet technology we rely on as the nervous system of our economy, government, and national security has fundamental limits that need to be addressed. The current version of the Internet, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) has a boundary that will actually encumber advances in mobile technologies. Limited by a finite number of IP addresses, the ability to meet the growing demand to uniquely identify multiple devices on the web -- computers, printers, digital cameras, digital radios with 8000 channels, IP phones, and even guns, soldiers' helmets, robots, etc. -- is hindered. Thus, plug-and-play network connectivity and the ability to extend applications and services, such as voice over IP, videoconferencing and enhanced systems management, is severely weakened by an address deficit.

To meet this challenge, our colleagues in Europe and Asia, who have a more urgent need than in the United States, are already migrating to the next-generation of IP, version 6 (IPv6). International giants like HP, Ericsson, Sony, British Telecom, and Microsoft, and government agencies like the Department of Defense -- specifically Defense Research Engineering Network (DREN) and Defense Information System Network (DISN) -- have collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars testing and integrating the IPv6 protocol into their respective products and services.

IPv6 essentially addresses the inherent weaknesses of IPv4 and provides additional services and functionality. For example, it exponentially expands the number of available IP addresses. Some estimates place the number of available IP addresses IPv6 will ultimately provide at over 1000 per square meter of the Earth's surface. Another benefit of IPv6 will be enhanced services, such as better security and the ability to guarantee levels of service for priority data traveling over the Web.

IPv6's potential is already being realized. In Yokohama,for example, hundreds of public vehicles are connected via a city-wide IPv6 network. Each of those cabs, trucks, and buses carries sensors that relay back the status of the windshield wipers. If the wipers are on, the assumption is that it is raining. By aggregating all of the wiper statuses around the city, a current rain weather map can be generated that is far more accurate than a radar map.

Characteristically, the Department of Defense is taking the leadership role in the U.S. Currently, all new networking equipment purchases must be IPv6-compatible, and Department-wide IPv6 usage is scheduled by 2008. The Navy/Marine Corps Intranet and the Global Information Grid are two of the most visible Department of Defense programs that are already following the mandate to migrate to IPv6.

Due to White House interest in IPv6, the Department of Commerce initiated a study several months ago to examine the issues raised by the deployment of IPv6 in the United States. The results of that study, to be released later this year, will address a variety of issues including the benefits and uses of IPv6, current barriers to the deployment of IPv6, and the appropriate role of the US government in the national transition from IPv4.

While address limitations of the current Internet standards or IPv4 may have been the catalyst for IPv6, much like Y2K was the catalyst of massive network systems upgrades, IPv6 is not a fad technology movement.

What do you need to do to ensure that your agency is ready for the next generation of Internet technologies?

  1. Plan: Assess existing infrastructure by taking inventory of what's in use. Also think ahead to how this helps fulfill your agency's mission and then define future network needs. If possible, mandate IPv6 compliance for all new hardware and software purchases.
  2. Secure, secure, secure: While IPv6 will provide certain security improvements in the long run, it's not a panacea for current cybersecurity threats. The migration to IPv6 is an opportunity to map out and execute a more cohesive and interconnected network security strategy.
  3. Run dual fuel: You don't want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Continue to manage necessary IPv4 upgrades while administering IPv6 deployments in a controlled migration environment. IPv4 and IPv6 can coexist on the same network, and most new devices support both protocols.
  4. Adopt industry best practices: There are a handful of IPv6 networks in production, including the Moo v6 and the Defense Research and Engineering Network. Further, policy guidance to direct migration to the next generation of the Internet is in development by industry/government coalitions, such as Internet2, the IPv6 Forum and the Industry Advisory Council.

IPv6 is inevitable. And its impact on the networks and Internet tools of the future cannot be discounted. By carefully coordinating IPv4 upgrades with IPv6 deployments, networks can mature and evolve gracefully without experiencing costly growing pains. IPv6 is making tomorrow's next-generation networks more efficient to deploy, maintain, and operate today.

The demand of network-centric warfare and more Internet address space may be the driver for the IPv6 migration. But it is the ubiquity of the Internet and user-friendly graphic interfaces that will allow a five-year-old to surf the Net while learning to read, a teenager to download digital pictures from the prom while engaging in an IM conversation, the professional to zap a 100-page PowerPoint presentation around the globe in the blink of an eye, and the general in the war room to zero in on a suspected enemy target to manage the tactical damage of an air attack.

From "NeverLost" to the next commercial application, imagine what we can do tomorrow from today's military vision. IPv6 makes it possible.

About the author:
Dubhe Beinhorn is Vice President Juniper Federal Systems, Juniper Federal Systems. She can be contacted at

This was last published in June 2004

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