IPV6 - Why You Should Care

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I didn't really know what Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) was a few months ago. I had a vague notion that it would be important at some point, but I figured it was something that the IT networking folks needed to worry about. Boy, was I wrong. In the months since I started researching IPv6 I have learned that it will be a critical enabler of the AV technology evolution.

IPv6 is also known as next-generation internet. Basically, IPv6 was created to replace IPv4, which was adopted as a standard in September 1981. Obviously it is time for an upgrade. The next-generation internet greatly improves capabilities that have been difficult to deal with in IPv4. Some of the enhancements include upgraded quality of service (QoS), enhanced mobility, multicasting, always-on capabilities, improved security, autoconfiguration, peer-to-peer support, and an exponential increase in the number of available IP addresses.

Every one of these enhancements has the potential to impact AV technology. The net result of all of these enhancements is that government agencies will benefit from improved collaboration. The Department of Defense (DoD) will be able to create a true netcentric infrastructure that will allow real-time interaction between commands and warfighters. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with state and local governments, will be able to communicate with first responders, who will also be able to interact with each other. The Department of Education will have new tools at its disposal to meet the changing needs of future students.

The DoD is leading the transition for the federal government, and has already acquired 247 billion IPv6 addresses. DoD started planning for IPv6 back in 2003, and plans to start a major IPv6 migration this July by enabling it on the Non-Classified IP Router Network (NIPRnet). The DoD recognizes that IPv6 will enable converged networks that can support video, voice, and data.

The DoD is not alone it its efforts to modernize its networks. Virtually all federal agencies have an IPv6 transition plan in place. A memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to all federal chief information officers set June 30, 2008 as the date that all federal agencies' network infrastructures must be using IPv6. They also referenced the DHS's US-CERT advisory concerning IPv6 security issues. The OMB report went on to require all new IT procurements to be IPv6 compliant, at least to the "maximum extent possible," and that exceptions were to have prior, written CIO approval. This means that all AV products that are connected to the network in federal agencies must support both IPv4 and IPv6.

For most agencies, the IPv6 transition is at the network and transport layers of the OSI five-layer model right now, but will be moving quickly to the edge this summer. When it gets there, IPv6 knowledge will be critical for AV technology managers as the AV devices and applications that we are responsible for are integrated into the next-generation internet.

The good news is that IPv4 and IPv6 can peacefully coexist during the transition.

Methods such as dual stacking and tunneling will make the transition mostly transparent to end-users.

AV managers should be prepared because once IPv6 passes the milestones set for the network and transport layers, it will explode onto the device scene. Fortunately, a lot of devices are already IPv6 compliant, but some are not.

The DoD is taking the guesswork out of the procurement process by mandating that the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) test devices for IPv6 compatibility and interoperability.

Approved products are granted IPv6 Special Interoperability Certification. It's interesting to note that there are currently no AV products listed; fortunately, several prominent AV manufacturers are working on this. (See http://jitc.fhu.disa.mil/apl/ipv6.html#netapps for an approved product list.)

Despite the potential benefits, IPv6 is not without challenges. It may promise to improve security in the long term, but may also increase security threats in the short term as systems are transitioned. Government AV technology managers should work closely with their security officers to identify risks. Avoiding issues or banning AV technologies and mobile devices is not a long-term solution. Failure to leverage the power of AV capabilities that IPv6 enables creates a much greater risk of technical obsolescence and allows our global competitors and adversaries an opportunity to take over our IT leadership position.

Constantly emerging and evolving threats to our nation requires us to be increasingly vigilant and flexible in our understanding and adaptation of technologies that will meet the needs of our agencies and our country. AV technology can help to overcome these types of threats by making communication and collaboration more efficient.

Gary L. Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, is a program management execution officer at the National- Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Bethesda, MD. He is also an adjunct instructor at the InfoComm Academy and can be reached atgarylhall@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are in no way officially endorsed by NGA, and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States.

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