The promise of information convergence has been talked about for years. In its truest sense, convergence means that everything can be part of the network — from home appliances to cars to sensors at the edge of the factory floor. Being part of the network has its rewards, saving time and money chief among them. What if your car's tires could tell you they need changing before one blows at 75 mph? Or the fourth motor on the production line is overheating and needs service before the entire line shuts down?

To achieve this level of connectivity, what industry experts call “an Internet of things,” each device needs an IP address so it can feed data back to the network. Problem is, current Internet Protocol (IP), IPv4, is running out of addresses. In place since the 1970s, it seemed that four billion unique addresses would be plenty. But with rapid Internet growth during the 90s, those address blocks are almost gone. IPv6, the next version of IP, doesn't have that problem since it offers trillions of addresses, in addition to many other enhanced features.

The U.S. Government has mandated that all federal agencies transition to IPv6 by 2008, and many technology companies are already there — HP, Cisco, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, among others. Operating systems like Windows Vista, MacOS, and Linux are v6 ready as well.

If your company hasn't started talking about IPv6, it should be, according to Patrick Esposito, COO of Augusta Systems, Morgantown, W.Va., a company that makes products to bridge the gap between sensor data and the network. “Design and manufacturing engineers should be learning by doing, today. Since the technology is here, there's no reason to wait. The time is now to start setting up pilot cases and test systems, with an eye toward wide-scale adoption by the end of the decade,” says Esposito.

For more information, visit www.commandinformation.com or www.ipv6tf.org.