Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. government agencies managed to meet a Sept. 30 deadline that had been set for them to activate IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) on all of their outward-facing servers.

With the availability of names on the Internet rapidly running out, IPv6 is supposed to represent the salvation of the Web. Two years ago, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered government agencies to take the lead in adopting IPv6, by now for all of their Web sites and with all internal applications to be up and running under IPv6 by this time in 2014.

Just what went wrong now is a matter of debate. Some claim difficulty in implementing the technology. Others, perhaps more politically motivated, blame Congress for failing to appropriate funds needed to make the conversion, turning governmental IPv6 into an unfunded mandate. Tom Coffeen, the chief IPv6 evangelist at Infoblox’ IPv6 Center of Excellence, has a different theory. He thinks government agencies just don’t see the need to make the move yet.

“We see the lack of IPv6 adoption as a threat to business,” rather than as a threat to government agencies, he explains. As a business, “you have to be able to offer your online resources directly over IPv6” or risk facing competition that has done so. The danger, he says, is “running into performance issues because they’re translating from IPv4.”

He continues, “Is this compelling to a federal agency? I don’t know that it is.” After all, federal agencies don’t have competition. “What incentive does a federal agency have to make sure that its Web site is performing equally well for a user coming from an IPv6 host or from an IPv4 host?”

Put another way, there’s no carrot to entice agencies into making the transition, at least not now. And as for a stick, there’s not one of those, either. The OMB mandate carries with it no legislated penalties for agencies that don’t comply with the deadline. “I think there’s a recognition by a lot of these agencies that the status quo for them isn’t that onerous.” The worst that might happen, Coffeen estimates, is that an agency might have to get a waiver to install a new non-IPv6 application.

As for the unfunded mandate, Coffeen insists that “technically, it really isn’t that complicated” to transition from the current IPv4 to IPv6 support. He points out that while some federal agencies have done nothing at all to transition, some not only have met the initial mandate, but already have complied with the 2014 mandate for internal IPv6 applications support. Heading that list, he cites the Veteran’s Administration.

At least a half dozen other government agencies are also two years ahead of their brethren, according to a continually updated list maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (for more information, click here). The OMB has tried to meet its own 2014 mandate in advance. It has met the 2012 mandate, but tests show a problem with its implementation of IPv6 on its e-mail server. In total, 301 federal Web sites now have achieved the 2012 mandate, but 1,070 have not. Some 58 government mail servers and 170 DNS servers at various agencies are at the 2014 level, while 700 DNS servers and 534 mail servers have yet to be converted.

As for the network infrastructure needed to reach those government sites, Coffeen indicates the nation’s carriers are ready. He cites the IPv6 implementation at Comcast as being exemplary. “It’s not as if the government agencies are waiting for the carrier networks to turn on IPv6. The major carriers saw the writing on the wall quite a few years ago,” Coffeen says. “In general, the adoption of IPv6 among Tier One and Tier Two carriers is pretty good.”

Stuart Zipper

The Daily

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