The current standard for the rules for how devices communicate over the Web is IPv4, which is running out of available addresses, prompting the move to IPv6.
While the Obama administration is certainly the most web-savvy to date, it's been slow to announce a transition plan to the new standard, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been pushing since 2005.
U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra revealed the plan Tuesday at a IPv6 workshop in Washington hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and it also was outlined in an OMB memo, which reveals the schedule for agencies to update servers and services. However, the memo also calls for them to support IPv4 for the foreseeable future to avoid interoperability issues.
Public/external facing servers and services, such as webmail, domain name server (DNS), and Internet service provider (ISP) services, must operationally use native IPv6 by Sept. 30, 2012, which is the end of fiscal year 2012. Internal client enterprise networks must do the same by the end of fiscal year 2014.
To guide them through the transition, agencies also must appoint an IPv6 transition manager and submit that person's name, title, and contact information to the OMB by Oct. 30. Kundra also is requiring that agencies ensure their procured networked IT products and services are tested for compatibility with IPv6.
In the memo, Kundra laid out the benefits of the federal government's move to IPv6, saying it would support agencies' modernization efforts, particularly in the areas of cloud computing, broadband, and smart-grid technologies, "which rely on robust, scalable Internet networks."
One of the benefits of IPv6, which has not been widely adopted yet, is that it can support a much larger address space than its predecessor -- 128 bits compared to 32 bits in IPv4. This allows for the support of a virtually unlimited amount of devices.
In the memo, Kundra noted how other features of the new standard will benefit agencies. He said the move will reduce complexity and increase the transparency of Internet services because it eliminates the reliance on network address translation technologies.
It also enables ubiquitous security services for end-to-end network communications, which will provide the foundation for the future security of federal IT systems.
The Bush administration's OMB previously required federal agencies to demonstrate that their backbone networks can support IPv6; a deadline for agencies to demonstrate IPv6 capability was June 30, 2008.
The OMB now plans to work with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to implement IPv6, according to the memo. Additionally, a Federal IPv6 Task Force will work with agencies to share best practices to ensure a smooth transition.