In the wake of US military plans to IPv6-enable its network by 2008, Australia's defence force has disclosed its own plans for a target date of 2013.
Defence's capability management and interoperability director, Group Captain Mike Walkington said an internal information committee first considered IPv6 in November last year and in January new CIO Air Vice Marshal John Monaghan approved an initial policy for achieving the transition to IPv6.
Walkington said the 2013 target will be achieved by progressively upgrading equipment and the department doesn't envisage a "big bang tender going out".
"There is a certain degree of inevitability with IPv6 (and) our major ally is moving to IPv6 so equipment sourced from the US will be IPv6-enabled," Walkington says, adding that the move also ties in with Defence's network-centric warfare policy.
Today's IPv4 Internet has a 32-bit address space that caters for about four billion unique addresses whereas the 128-bit IPv6 allows for over 340 billion billion billion billion (34x1038) unique addresses.
Despite this, Walkington says the increased address space of IPv6 is not a major driver for the transition.
"IPv6 enables end-to-end interoperability, improved support for mobile users such as deployed forces, and improved security, routing, and management," he says. "IPv6 is strategic in Defence's planning."
Defence intends to adopt "smarter" use of its network for business logistics and support. IPv6 could also be leveraged for network capability that is "relevant to the military", for example, aircraft have a number of time-managed systems for service and maintenance.
After a lot of internal discussion about the timing, Walkington sees 2013 as an "achievable" timeframe and hopes lessons learned from the US migration will ease the transition.
"We see that the expiry of IPv4 will be much later than that [and] there will be a growing availability of IPv6 equipment in that timeframe," he says. "Also, legacy systems may not be up for replacement before 2013."
Local IPv6 Forum chairman Michael Biber applauded Defence's decision and said 2013 is a realistic timeframe for a complete transition.
"The US date of October 2008 is for specific parts of the network and not all of it," Biber says. "Addresses are becoming a bottleneck with the emergence of VoIP and converged devices so we're looking at a significant ramp up. All in all this is good news and there will be potential for faster ramping up of the transition when the benefits are realised."
Although the projected completion of the move is eight years away, Australian Defence Captain Mike Walkington expects IPv6 technology to begin appearing in replacement equipment over the next year or so.
A working group of 12 people has been set up to oversee the project and has been in discussions with the Defence Science and Technology Organization's (DSTO) IPv6 working group.
Walkington's team has also had discussions with the US Defence Department's IPv6 office during a visit there last November and further talks are scheduled at an IPv6 coalition conference in May.
Paul Wilson, director general of the Brisbane-based Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), distributor of IPv6 address space in the region, said the timeframe given for this transition is long, but probably realistic given the planning required and the complexity involved in completing a full transition to IPv6.
"We would expect that commercial organisations such as ISPs will move more quickly than this as new applications and a competitive marketplace develop in the next few years," Wilson says. "This is a natural decision for any organisation involved in networking; however, it is one which many are still deferring at present."