Confused on how to adopt IPv6 for your state or local government website? If so, you’re likely not alone.

Sixty percent of enterprise IT teams don’t have an IPv6 plan in place, according to a recent survey by Infoblox, a provider of automated network controls. But fear not — joining the IPv6 movement may be easier than you think.

Paul Ebersman, IPv6 evangelist with the Infoblox IPv6 Center of Excellence, said that while the change involves Internet connectivity, government tech professionals shouldn’t assume the only equipment that needs to be IPv6-capable is networking technology. IPv6 is the Internet’s next-generation protocol that, unlike the current IPv4 standard, has essentially an inexhaustible number of IP addresses.

“The reality is it’s a complete change in how the Internet works below that affects everything,” Ebersman said of IPv6 adoption. “Things you don’t think about [such as] hardware, software, applications, wireless video cameras, legacy gear in your accounting department. You need to discover what all of those things are and see if you have a migration path for those devices.”

In addition, one of the key steps government agencies should consider is making a commitment to only buy new equipment that is IPv6 compliant. This way, over time a government’s normal technology refresh cycle will naturally filter out non-IPv6 devices.

Ebersman felt putting that mandate in place would be “huge” for governments wanting to move to IPv6, without altering budget practices or bid cycles much, except to add an additional requirement to the process.

Focused specifically on website compatibility, however, the Infoblox IPv6 Center of Excellence provided six basic steps that state and local governments can take to make their websites accessible to IPv6 devices:

  • Get IPv6 addresses from your Regional Internet Registry (RIR) or Internet service provider;
  • Get IPv6 connectivity from your ISP;
  • Identify candidate Web and DNS server(s) and the supporting network(s) for IPv6 adoption;Audit Web and DNS server(s) and the supporting network(s) for IPv6 support;
  • For Web and DNS server(s) as well as supporting network(s) configure dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 (or employ appropriate transition technology); and
  • Publish IPv6 DNS records (AAAAs) for the main website.

IPv6 Needed

IP addresses are the identifying numbers given to each device that goes online. IPv4, a protocol with those numbers, was launched in 1981 and has about 4 billion addresses. But with the sharp increase of devices connecting to the Internet, the last of those IPv4 number has been assigned. To meet the increased demand, IPv6 was created.

The challenge facing technology professionals is that IPv4 and IPv6 can’t be merged. Both versions need to run parallel. There are short-term solutions, such as assigning an IPv6 address to a temporary IPv4 number, but as more devices connect to the Web inevitably the final IPv4 numbers will be used up and those devices will be wholly dependent on IPv6 numbers.

At some point, domains that aren’t running the IPv6 protocol will not be able accessible to those devices operating with only an IPv6 IP address, thus the push for IPv6 adoption.

So why do some agencies and companies in the U.S. still lack an IPv6 plan? Ebersman said the delay is likely due to a lack of understanding that there actually is an IP address shortage. He explained that the U.S. has had a wealth of IPv4 space compared to the rest of the world, so the urgency hasn’t been present until now.

In addition, mobile connectivity and “bring-your-own-technology” initiatives are acting as another driver for IPv6 adoption. In the past, handheld devices traditionally didn’t have the bandwidth capabilities that computers did, but widespread use of tablets has changed the playing field, Ebersman explained.

“Even though you don’t think you have a need to provide IPv6 connectivity, suddenly a whole class of your customers and users that you are supporting actually do need to have that,” Ebersman said, referring to local and state governments that are now seeing more citizens accessing official websites via mobile devices.

“While most of the wireless providers are doing transition technologies, the performance is not the same as it would be with native IPv6,” he added. “There will be a performance difference users will see if you enable v6 as well as v4 on your website.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. He also contributes to Emergency Management magazine. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y.