Agencies should start planning the transition to the next generation of the Internet immediately, industry representatives said during a conference in Washington on Thursday.
The current protocol will run out of addresses by 2012, speakers noted. Eighty-five percent of its 4.3 billion 32-bit addresses already have been used. The next generation -- Internet protocol version 6 -- uses 128-bit addresses, making space almost limitless.
"IPv6 is a business continuity issue," said Dave Green, vice president of research and development at Command Information, a Herndon, Va., Internet service provider. "That's how you sell it to leadership, not as a technical issue. All e-commerce sites will run on IPv6."
The Office of Management and Budget required federal agencies to be able to carry IPv6 packets of data by June 2008, but Green called that a "low bar test."
He said most agencies have purchased computers, routers, smart phones and other devices equipped with it IPv6 technology. "You've already bought it, it's just a matter of some training and consulting to turn it on," he said.
Green and Cody Christman, director of product engineering for NTT Communications, a telecommunications firm in Tokyo, said early planning and training are the keys to a quick and relatively painless transition. They emphasized making sure security policies were updated, since IPv6 brings vulnerabilities that must be mitigated. They also recommended that agencies switch to dual stack routers capable of handling both IPv4 and IPv6 packets of data, allowing a phased implementation of the new protocol.
"Organizations make too big of a deal about the change," Christman said. "If you break it down, it becomes a more manageable project."
IPv6 will foster innovation, Green said. For instance, it will allow a number of new uses for mobile technology. During last year's conference, Green used a cell phone equipped with IPv6 to control a camera back at his company's headquarters.
The technology also can be used for disaster response. Japan has established an early warning system for earthquakes based on IPv6 technology, Christman said. The system, which has been in place since July 2007, collects information from more than 1,000 sensors across the country. When the sensors detect seismic activity, they use IPv6-enabled multicast servers to send warning messages to people in danger via their cell phones, laptops or Internet appliances about three seconds before the earthquake hits.
"A three-second warning doesn't seem like much, but it makes a huge difference in a society trained to respond to an earthquake," Christman said. It would not have been possible to target people by geographic area under the current version of the Internet, he said.