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The Obama administration has set an ambitious target for all US government agencies to upgrade their networks and services to the next generation internet protocol, IPv6, by the end of September 2012.

A directive from Vivek Kundra, the US chief information officer, issued on Tuesday, also calls for internal networks to be upgraded to IPv6 by a later deadline by the end of September 2014. The push aims to ensure that federal web sites and e-government service are upgraded before the current allocation of IPv4 addresses is exhausted. Priority will be placed on upgrading public-facing Web services – including Web, email, and DNS services – to native IPv6 before moving on to internal PCs and servers.

IPv4 has a 32-bit address space offering up to 4.3 billion addresses. The may sound like a lot but less than six per cent of the current IPv4 address block remains, an allocation that might be exhausted in as little as 240 days, according to estimates by Huricane Electric.

The use of Network Address Translation technology has delayed the long predicted IPv4 crunch for many years but the increased use of smartphone devices and millions of consumers coming online in countries such as China has reversed the trend and brought IPv4 exhaustion much closer.

IPv6 offers 128-bit addresses and therefore offers a vastly increased address space as well as advantages in mobility and security, at least in theory. Early adopters in the Reg readership have said the "IPv6 support" does not always make for a smooth cross over of networking kit and problems remain, particularly when it comes to supporting wireless networks.

The US government is planning to run a series of workshops to refine best practice for upgrading to IPv6 and to test commercial products, an important job that will be handled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. ®

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