The federal government is running out of time to establish clear and uniform standards for industry hardware that would quadruple the size of the next-generation Internet.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has set June 30, 2008, as the date for government agencies to show they can run IPv6, new IP-addressing scheme, on their networks. The expanded system will greatly increase the number of addresses available on the Internet.
Make no mistake about it. The Internet is growing very quickly, almost too quickly to keep pace with the demands for more addresses for computers, PDAs and wireless devices. If no action is taken, the Internet will run out of space around 2010, and then you will get a message on your network like a telephone recording that says, "Sorry, we cannot connect you at this time."
Much like the Y2K problem that saw government and the private sector work together to fix the century-rollover time change for computers, the IPv6 expansion will require a partnership between government and industry. It is the only way forward to grow the Internet, make it more secure and keep the system humming instead of jamming up.
Right now, there is more confusion than a plan. At least four separate initiatives are under way to implement IPv6 in the government, and it's not clear whether everyone is following a uniform strategy. The Defense Department, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the Chief Information Officers Council and the General Services Administration (GSA) have all rolled up their sleeves, but it is unknown at this point if the products that industry develops will pass muster at each of these points.
Also like the Y2K initiative, the government must stay vigilant in this case to make sure that the Digital Age flourishes and keeps growing without succumbing to the obstacles in its way. But there is no real sign that government is taking this deadline very seriously. To meet this deadline, industry should have begun years ago to come up with viable, flexible solutions. Instead, we are faced with the prospect of waiting for the deadline and then scrambling for the answers. As it is, it may take decades to fully integrate IPv6 into the network system, and phase out IPv4.
If government wants something that is operational and on time, it has to start testing what works -- sooner rather than later. Any delay is likely to cost the taxpayer more money, too. Without clear guidance, some technology companies could get out of the market and reduce the government's options at the best prices when they need them most.
There is only one list of certified IPv6 products, maintained by DOD. But the Pentagon's Joint Interoperability Test Command requires that products be nominated and tested by government users before they are listed. GSA is talking about a separate IPv6 approved list, but it is unclear how one list will match up with the other.
The federal government needs a point person in charge of this issue, someone who can navigate the curves and speed bumps that any new system faces. It must start educating and training federal workers in handling the changeover. And it must give clear, uniform guidance to provide the best devices so government will not waste money and industry will be able to produce products acceptable to all of government.
This sounds like a tall order -- and it is. Yet it will only become more difficult if the federal government does not move swiftly. We call upon OMB to bring order and consistency to this issue so it is solved long before it becomes a headache. This may be the kind of problem that becomes a migraine if it isn't addressed right now.