U.S. pressure builds for IPv6 migration

The pressure is on south of the border: The mandated deadline for core network transition for U.S. government agencies to IPv6 is June 2008. In aid of this, Juniper Networks recently announced the release of Volume III of its IPv6 World Report Series.

The series was launched with the intention of providing transition guidance to U.S. agencies. Volume I focused on overall transition planning, while Volume II highlighted the importance of understanding IPv6 technology requirements. Input comes from organizations that have implemented IPv6 around the world, as well as industry, R&D networks and government agencies.

Brad Ryan, chief architect for Juniper in the public sector, believes that most equipment vendors are in decent shape, and that the mandate from the U.S. government’s Office of Management and Budget is a good thing.

“There are a limited number of IPv4 addresses in the world. Asia and Europe are changing due to demand for addressable cell phones, and the U.S. risks falling behind. The U.S. has hoarded IPv4 addresses, and that might be working against us, as there has been less incentive to migrate to IPv6.”

This isn’t alarmist talk. Unallocated IPv4 addresses are now predicted to exhaust in 2010. In May, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ERIN) dramatically claimed that the available IPv4 resource pool had been reduced to the point where migration to IPv6 was deemed necessary for any applications that required ongoing availability.

Marc Blanchett, a Quebec City-based consultant and member of the Canada’s IPv6 task force, says Canada isn’t doing much to encourage migration to IPv6.

“In the U.S. it started with the Department of Defense. They simply couldn’t architect new technologies with IPv4. But in Canada there is very little uptake.”

A report from the Canadian Telecom Policy Review Panel, issued last year, had a section referring to the importance of IPv6, but little sense of urgency. This is a far cry from the U.S. government’s proactive mandate, which has also helped build awareness. A recent survey of U.S. government IT employees found that 86 per cent felt the country would be negatively affected by a late transition to IPv6.

In Canada, the worry is located in key industries. “Some wireless providers are really concerned,” said Blanchett. “They see network growth and service requirements for millions of people. They’ll need addresses for the applications used by their mobile customers.”

A lot of the work that needs to be done involves tunneling between IPv4 and IPv6 so that the old addresses remain viable. In this way, organizations will still be able to run off of their legacy IPv4 addresses, but only grow with IPv6. With IPv6, growth will be of a different magnitude, allowing for an explosion in peer-to-peer networks, with application relevance for gaming, mobile communications, and logistics.

The risk is that some IPv4 routers might not be able to handle the new loads, given that IPv6 packets can be twice the size, and that running in a dual-stack mode could be slow. Although the plan isn’t completely to turn the lights out on IPv4, some refresh cycles will most certainly involve a rip-and-replace approach.