The next version of the Internet Protocol, which provides a 128-bit standard to transmit data, is getting a jump-start for adoption with its endorsement by the U.S. Department of Defense. The result: A boost in the number of available Internet addresses, to eventually number as many as an address for every cell in every person on the planet.
The DOD is requiring all contractors involved in its Global Information Grid program to support the new Internet Protocol version 6 as of October 1, 2003. IPv6 is expected to replace the current 32-bit IP version 4 (IPv4) for nearly all Internet traffic by 2008. The replacement is necessary because the number of available of IP addresses is dwindling, say the standard's developers.
Needed: More Nodes
The Internet Engineering Task Force has warned since the mid-1990s that we're running out of available Internet addresses. Already, 170 billion of the 250 billion Internet nodes available under IPv4 are in use, says Latif Ladid, IPv6 Forum president.
While network address translation and other technologies have alleviated this shortage in the short term, available IP addresses remain scarce, especially outside North America, Ladid says. Also, demand is growing. Future Internet applications, including several DOD projects, will require many more IP addresses than the 4 billion available under IPv4.
Unlike the move from IPv3 to IPv4 in the early 1980s, versions 4 and 6 of the protocol will interoperate during and after the transition.
The DOD is "on the hunt for IP addresses," says John L. Osterholz, director of architecture and interoperability for the Defense Information Systems Agency.
The Global Information Grid project and other Net-centric operations demand many IP addresses, but will improve the U.S. military's ability to counter terrorism, Osterholz says.
The GIG project involves internetworked sensors, platforms, and other information technology and existing national security systems. It is designed to share resources and expand U.S. security data and analysis capabilities.
"Al-Qaeda maintains a low profile and is highly distributed," he says. "They were Net-centric, we were not. Their command and control capability requires us to have a similar capability."
Speaking at the recent IPv6 Summit in San Jose, California, Osterholz said the DOD's current processes aren't designed for such attacks.
"At the end of the day, it isn't hardware and software we deploy, it's the business processes that we're changing," Osterholz said in his conference keynote.
The DOD will develop an IPv6 test bed in the next 30 days, and will use it for testing and demonstrations as part of the transition to IPv4, Osterholz said. He expects this will accelerate the availability of IPv6 security products, which will also be compatible with IPv4 technology.
The DOD expects to move to IPv6 at both the network level and application level. Security and quality of service issues remain major challenges, Osterholz added.
"Content management and content staging will be a huge problem," he told the conference.
Along with resolving the shortage of IP addresses, IPv6 improves network security, manageability, and quality of service, according to John P. Stenbit, the Pentagon's chief information officer. Stenbit outlined the DOD's implementation plan in a June memorandum.
The Pentagon intends to migrate segments of the GIG Project to IPv6 between 2005 and 2007, and fully adopt the standard by 2008, Osterholz says. Among the first applications to be ported to the network are basic language translation, military gaming, and simulations.
The Internet itself has some roots in the Defense Department. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency helped develop in the 1960s the network that evolved into the Internet.
In the 1980s, jurisdiction over the Internet was shifted to the National Science Foundation and other non-military organizations inside and outside the government. Osterholz says the DOD's return to a prominent role in setting Internet standards is occurring out of necessity, and that the DOD will once again step out of that position when the need abates.