Finally an answer emerges for why IPv6

The FCC becomes the latest agency to fully move to the more secure protocol. NIST's scorecard shows agency progress over the last decade.

A recent tweet by Michael O’Rielly, a Federal Communications Commission commissioner, congratulating the agency on moving to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), got me thinking, whatever happened to that effort?

Where do agencies stand a decade after the White House first called on agencies to adopt this more secure protocol?

It was so important, at one time, that the Office of Management and Budget issued two memos requiring agencies to move to the more secure, better protocol on the network backbone. The CIO Council also stood up a working group, issued how-to guides, and there were the assorted conferences, talks and lunches about the importance of IPv6.

The first time OMB mandated agencies move was in 2005, giving them a 2008 deadline. Then two years after most agencies missed the 2008 deadline, OMB came up with two more deadlines: By 2012, agencies must upgrade public or external facing services and services; and by 2014, they must upgrade internal client applications that communicate with public services or support enterprise networks.

Nearly a decade in the making, the latest statistics from the National Institute of Standards and Technology show quietly agencies are leading industry.

And the FCC became the latest in a small number to fully make the jump to IPv6.

“With the recent move of the core FCC data center to a commercial cloud provider, FCC enabled IPv6 for public facing systems,” said FCC CIO David Bray, in an email to Federal News Radio.

O’Rielly’s Dec. 7 tweet congratulating the FCC comes more than a year after he first called on the organization to move its infrastructure to IPv6 to be an example for industry and the rest of government.

The FCC made the move, in part, because of its decision to move to the commercial cloud.

“Given that FCC’s is increasingly reliant on commercial cloud services, we’re working with several cloud providers to enable IPv6 in their public facing cloud services as well,” said Christine Calvosa, the FCC’s deputy chief information officer of resiliency, in a statement to Federal News Radio. “Our strategy at FCC is to reuse commercial cloud services going forward, which is why we’re hoping commercial cloud providers adopt it for their public-facing services soon.”

The FCC’s comments about working with commercial cloud providers to move to IPv6 are telling.

One of the reasons the public sector is way ahead of the private sector is commercial providers don’t see the demand for IPv6. Even though many have rung the alarm bell about running out of IPv4 addresses, the better security that comes with IPv6 and host of other benefits, the private sector hasn’t been overly excited about it.

Peter Tseronis, CEO and founder of Dots and Bridges and a former chief technology officer at the Energy Department, who also led the government’s transition efforts to IPv6, said the inability to explain why IPv6 is important beyond the technology aspects has been the biggest obstacle for companies and agencies.

But Tseronis said with the emergence over the last year or so of connected devices under the moniker the Internet of Things, there finally is a good explanation of why moving to IPv6 is so important.

“If I was using the term Internet of Things in 2005, it would have been a lot sexier than IPv6,” Tseronis said. “If I was running an organization now, I’d talk about IoT and why moving to the new protocol is so important. We struggled with what IPv6 means. We got bogged down in technical jargon and it became all about compliance and scorecard.”

Tseronis said if you dig deeper into President Barack Obama’s priorities, especially those outlined in the 2015 State of the Union speech, whether it was removing America’s dependence on oil and gas or moving to a 21st century infrastructure for roads, bridges and transportation, or the Precision Medicine Initiative, they all are supported, if not hinge upon, connected devices that have to run on the Internet.

“When I say Internet, someone in the IPv6 world thinks routing and switchers. But what has to happen is we create that line of site to the use case of mission innovation that IPv6 is the kernel or core. It isn’t socialized or giving credit for what it is but it is there to support those new technologies,” he said. “No one cared that IPv4 enabled us to go online. IPv6 is that enabling interconnection and catalyst of innovation. I’m not sure that is being told and too often it gets lost in agency move to IPv6.”

The good news is agencies actually are making real progress.

NIST runs a governmentwide scorecard on agency progress to move external domains to IPv6. The results show a strong majority of the networks either are IPv6 enabled or on their way. The Department of Interior, NASA and the Social Security Administration have fully moved their domains to IPv6. Others such as the National Science Foundation, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are close.

On the other end of the spectrum, the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration have a long way to go.

So when agencies ask the question nearly 10 years later, why IPv6? The answer should be much clearer and easier to explain why complying with the mandate makes more sense than ever.

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