As the Internet of Things explodes and the world runs out of addresses on the IPv4 protocol, government agencies are under mandate to respond and ensure their websites and apps work with addresses on IPv6.
Overhauling an entire agency’s IT architecture can be a daunting task but federal IT managers who have been working on the problem for more than a decade offered some tips during a panel at the annual 930Gov conference on Aug. 26.
“Deploying IPv6 in the federal government is moving pretty doggone slow,” said Stu Mitchell, chief network architect in the Interior Department Office of the CIO.
While managing two protocols in a dual stack environment can be difficult, the technology is available to make it work. Much of the reticence in government has more to do with the size of the problem and a lack of understanding.
“Deploying v6, there’s a lot of fear out there and that’s probably what’s keeping people from moving forward,” said Kenny Burroughs, an IPv6 evangelist for the Infoblox Center of Excellence. “To overcome your fear, you have to gain knowledge.”
“Awareness is a big thing,” Mitchell agreed. He pointed to work that federal IT managers have been doing for years to prepare their colleagues for the transition, including the IPv6 roadmap created for the CIO Council. “The guy out in the field needs to pick up that document and have a willingness to implement that.”
While IT managers should be sure to educate themselves on IPv6, Ivor D’Souza, CIO at NIH’s National Library of Medicine, said it’s just as important to make sure agency leadership understands how this will affect the department’s mission.
“The CIO really needs to be able to articulate how IPv6 can help the mission … being able to articulate it and champion it across the organization,” he said. “To the extent that the CIO can do that, that’s where you get success.”
D’Souza offered three tips for agencies trying to wrap their arms around this task, comparing IPv6 deployment to agile software development methods.
“If you don’t have good intent, enough feeling of passion to do this IPv6, then you know it’s not going to go far,” D’Souza said.
Ensuring an agency understands this need and gets behind it is largely the job of the CIO.
“You have to get your hands dirty,” he said. “The enormity of something new scares people and they’re not able to get started. How does the CIO in his leadership role lead change because this is just another change you have to lead the organization through.”
CIOs should focus in on how deployment will affect the mission, secure executive buy-in and have a detailed understanding of the effort it will take to implement the IPv6 protocol.
“Just having intent is never good enough,” D’Souza said. “You need to have the capability to follow that intent.”
The capabilities to lead change include having a trained staff educated in IPv6 and the issues surrounding it, a plan to implement and the resources and funding to carry out that plan. Agencies should start with a detailed inventory of assets, D’Souza said, so they understand just how big the lift will be.
“Organizations that demonstrate strong capability also have a good game plan,” he said. “They have a good sense of the inventory of what it is they have, what it is that needs to be transitioned from IPv4 to supporting IPv4 and v6. They have a plan and are able to articulate it in real terms.”
Finally, IPv6 implementation will fail if agency leaders and IT managers don’t approach the transition head-on.
“The approach is very important,” D’Souza said. “Not the approach at the level of the technician — of the person implementing — but it’s the approach in the thoughts of the leader. How does the leader see how they’re pursuing the IPv6 transition?”
Strong leadership is at the core of all three of D’Souza’s recommendations. And this is something federal leaders should be eager to take up, Mitchell added.
“We have a responsibility to serve our information to the general public, so there are going to be, sooner or later, pockets of people who only have IPv6,” he said. “We need to accomplish that — no question about it.”