What IPV6 Really Means for the Smart Grid

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The way that smart grid companies have bee touting “IPV6″ in their press releases recently, you’d think the geeky numbering system was the next hot killer app or some fundamental break through technology. Cisco highlighted IPV6 in its numerous announcements last week, and this morning, Silver Spring Networks notes IPV6 front and center in an announcement, too. It’s not the next new thing — IPV6 compatibility is actually pretty standard for new and future IP networking products these days — and praising IPV6 today is like a group of librarians in the 80s swooning over the Dewey Decimal system.

Back in 2004, for my first article for Red Herring Magazine, I was tasked with writing a feature about the beast that is IPV6, or Internet Protocol version 6. It’s essentially the next generation address numbering system for Internet-connected devices, it’s been under development and discussion for a decade, and will continue to be under development for another decade.

Since the emergence of today’s Internet, companies have been using IPV4 (Internet Protocol version 4) for address numbering, but the problem is that IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses, which limits the amount of unique addresses to a little over 4 billion (232). That might seem like a lot, but when everything from our phones to fridges to cars (and here comes China) get hooked up to the Internet, there’s gonna be a lot more connected devices than unique addresses available.

Enter IPV6, which uses 128-bit addresses, or 2128, and provides for far more available IP addresses than IPV4. It’s also got a bunch of other advantages, including an easier way for devices to auto-configure their own addresses and a built-in mechanism for data security. As Allan Leinwand wrote on GigaOM back in 2007, “IPv6 features promise to make the Internet scale better, support new services and have tighter security.”

Every year, IT companies call for a faster acceleration to IPV6, and every year, it’s clear that the transition to this numbering system is always several years away. There’s also a good deal of debate over how to proceed with the transition from IPV4 to IPV6, given the migration could potentially cause some networking issues.

So here’s what IPV6 means for the smart grid: Yes, it’s good to have smart grid network technology be based around IPV6, and it means those companies are forward-looking. When (and if) some worldwide IPV6 migration occurs, IPV6-enabled networks could avoid some potential switchover networking problems.

For any network company using IP for the architecture of the smart grid (which is the future) IPV6-compatibility should be the standard for smart grid networks. Utilities build networks that they want to last decades with minimal upgrades and fixes. Cisco, Silver Spring Networks, and any company with IT roots in the smart grid know this, and have already been configuring IPV6 into their network technology.

That IPV6 has now become a buzz word for smart grid firms just shows the increased competition and noise between network folks like Cisco and Silver Spring Networks, as well as Grid Net, Smart Synch and Trilliant. Silver Spring has long been a company that has taken a quieter approach to PR and marketing, but perhaps that will have to change as Cisco keeps on making incremental announcements about its upcoming smart grid products.

Now, for all you converted IPV6 fans, watch the world’s nerdiest IPV6 video below:

For more research on the smart grid check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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Image courtesy of tnarik.

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