Government Outpacing Private Sector in IPv6 Adoption, Official Says

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More than half of public federal web domains are using the new protocol.

As the supply of new Internet Protocol addresses in the U.S. is expected to be exhausted by this summer, new government data shows more than half of public federal web domains have already transitioned to an upgraded protocol.

Agencies and departments have adopted Internet Protocol version 6 -- a potentially more secure communications protocol -- for about 54.92 percent of their public domains, according to the federal IT dashboard. But IPv6 adoption rates among agencies vary widely -- about 4 percent for Department of Agriculture domains, and 100 percent for NASA and the Social Security Administration, for instance.

While the older protocol, IPv4, uses 32-bits for each address, IPv6 uses 128-bits, meaning that it can support more addresses. Some experts, including those at the National Institutes for Standards and Technology, claim that the "virtually limited address space" could also "further network security," despite the costs of deploying the new protocol.

Doug Montgomery, NIST's manager for Internet and Scalable Systems Research, told Nextgov that the government is well ahead of the private sector in adopting the protocol. A 2005 Office of Management and Budget memo required federal IT procurements to include IPv6 capabilities where possible; a subsequent memo set adoption milestones for 2012.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that technology companies, including Salesforce and Microsoft, are buying up new IPv4 addresses from each other, before supply runs out, instead of adopting IPv6. (Facebook, in contrast, opted to upgrade to IPv6.)

“Most people look at results of the government efforts and they always want to tell the half-empty [story],” Montgomery said in an interview. He emphasized that the government has gradually been implementing this protocol for years. 

Not all data paints as rosy a picture.  An April report from the Defense Department's inspector general's office claimed that DOD missed deadlines to transition to IPv6, in part because IT officials, including the chief information officer did not consider it a high priority. NIST's charts, plotting the government's IPv6 enabled domains and services over time, suggests overall adoption plateaued after 2012, and, more recently, has dropped.  

The leveling-off could be because of the adoption milestones set for 2012, Montgomery said. 

He added that some agencies have a harder time transitioning to the new protocol than others, especially when many of their services, such as email, are outsourced. 

"Some CIO shops have the resources to devote" to the transition, Montgomery said. Others are stuck in long-term contracts. "In the middle of multiyear contracts, our ability to respond is kind of hampered," he added. 

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