ZeroG, M2M Puts Increasing Pressure on IPv4


In the great old sitcom Get Smart (which was co-created by Mel Brooks), Hymie the Robot -- a member of the super secret CONTROL spy agency -- had a crush on the office soda machine and wanted to ask it for a date. In a more serious vein, a science fiction movie of the same era, Collosus: The Forbin Project, tells the story of the linking of computer systems in the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The intent was to prevent accidental nuclear war, but the result was that the systems tried to take over the world.


We always have been intrigued by the idea of machines communicating with each other. That possibility is a reality today, and will become even more prevalent with ZeroG's introduction of a design for a low-power embedded Wi-Fi platform. The press release describes the various parts of the platform. The key passage:


ZeroG technology has been developed specifically for integrating into the many microcontroller-based systems that have limited processing power, few memory resources, and minimal or no operating systems, while requiring modest resources from the host system.

Sounds just like a coffee maker. All joking aside, there are very real benefits to linking household and other mundane items. Indeed, an argument can be made that such linkages represent a game-changing opportunity to drive efficiency and green living. If, for instance, an automated dispatch system tells 1,000 automobiles that one highway is clear and another is jammed, those cars will take the alternative -- and use a lot less gas.


There is a big issue challenge here, however: Count up the number of gadgets in your house, car and office that fit ZeroG's description. The number, multiplied by the number of people who may take advantage of such a network, is staggering.

Last autumn, I interviewed Ed Bursk, the chief marketing officer, Kore Telematics. Bursk said that machine to machine (M2M) communications is the next big wave. Kore Telematics is an M2M company, so Bursk's comments are understandable. However, they shouldn't be discounted just because his firm has a horse in the race. A bit of validation is that the applications submitted for Verizon Wireless's open network were for M2M platforms.

The ZeroG announcement and the growth of M2M are parallel. Some of the uses of the ZeroG and similar projects probably will be pure M2M, while some will be hybrids. In the traffic example, for instance, the automated center can contact either the car's owner via cell phone or his automobile. The bottom line, though, is that the number of Internet addresses needed once we give our microwaves Facebook accounts will be astronomical.

The baseline already is high. VeriSign said this week that the Internet added 24 million domain names last year, and finished with 177 million registered Top Level Domains. The numbers keep going up: The finishing number last year was a 16 percent increase over year-end 2007. In the fourth quarter of 2008, 10.1 million domain names were registered. There are more numbers and percentages in the release. The thread is that they all are big.

For the better part of the last decade, engineering worry warts have been pushing version six Internet Protocol (IPv6) as a way to avoid running out of spaces in the Internet parking lot. The simple fact is that the current Internet addressing scheme-IPv4-is nearing exhaustion. Some fancy tricks have kept this concern from evolving into a crisis, but the legerdemain has its limits. IPv6 solves that problem. It is, however, difficult to implement. That, combined with the successful workarounds, have limited implementation. This ZDNet piece asks and answers several important questions about IPv6. The bottom line is that an explosion of contacts between toasters, microwaves and clothes dryers could make serious deployment of IPv6 more a necessity than a luxury.