By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
June 24, 2010 - With reports and rumors of a big "internet crunch" circulating, the Department of Defense is looking ahead to discern how it can take advantage of more advanced web protocols to enhance its mission.
Kris Strance, the chief of internet protocol for the department, said today in a "DoDLive" Bloggers Roundtable that the crunch – the potential loss of available address space for devices to connect to internet networks – likely won't affect the Defense Department. But upgrading from internet protocol version four (IPv4) to version six (IPv6), he said, will allow for better network mobility and allow certain groups within the Defense Department to expedite their missions.
Strance said the current plan is to maintain IPv4 standards while adding the necessary equipment to allow IPv6 when needed, also known as "dual-stack" capability.
"We want to make sure the infrastructure is IPv6 capable along with maintaining IPv4," he said. "But our philosophy is one that when a component has a mission need or a business case to move to IPv6, then they can do that at relatively little cost. It's driven by their need rather than an overall [Department of Defense] mandate."
The IP address of a device is an identifying number assigned so network administrators can see who or what is accessing their network. In addition to the internet itself, IP is employed for voice over IP (VoIP) telephones, video teleconferencing and other secured lines of communication.
The crunch, he said, is largely attributable to the mass use of network-enabled devices, from smartphones and iPads to laptop computers to home appliances and devices connected to networks. Portable devices could have dozens, if not hundreds, of IP addresses assigned to them, because they're designed to connect to networks at all times.
"You can see it in the iPhone, the iPad, your computer at home, cars being able to report status on issues, aircraft ... in other words, in the future everything will be addressable via IP for whatever reason that is required, and that will take a significant number more IP addresses than what's currently available today," Strance said.
"I don't forsee a crisis, per se ... the big driver, in my mind, excluding DoD, will be the explosion of requirement for IP addresses, given where we are headed from a technology standpoint," he added.
Conversely, he said, the Department of Defense networks won't be under the same strain. Advancements in Defense networking will be made on a case-by-case basis, when required for a mission.
The department's concern won't be with ability to move to the new protocol, he said, but rather a concern about when it's the best time to do so for tactical use.
"We're trying to move to an environment where future capabilities are in fact IPv6 capable – whether that's turned on or not – so when our users make a decision that they need IPv6, they don't have to do a forklift of their current equipment to go ahead and turn on IPv6," Strance said.
There will be some equipment that won't be moved to IPv6, Strance said, because of the mission requirement or cost of upgrading that equipment versus buying new equipment. Because the network is dual-stacked, IPv4-capable machines won't be made obsolete. "The forecast by the American Registry of Internet Numbers say that they will issue the last of the IPv4 address space, probably in 2011," he said. "That's probably about accurate, but then again there are schemes or concepts that allow you to continue to operate v4, even after you've run out of v4 address space."