The Return of the Internet Toaster
The "Internet of Things" is coming--is the U.S. ready with its IPv6 transition?
In the Interop conference's early days, John Romkey was provoked into demonstrating a connected toaster. The Sunbeam Deluxe Radiant Controlled toaster was modified for SNMP control over a TCP/IP network. Two pervasive technologies combined into one device. Despite the fanfare, neither Sunbeam nor its competitors ever brought an IP enabled toaster to market. Perhaps they felt IP was just a temporary fad, or maybe they were concerned about the lack of connectivity in most kitchens.
Or maybe it was because it offered no value. The SNMP control only enabled the toaster to be turned on. Insertion of the bread, and pushing-down the plunger required human intervention.
The toaster was really only meant to demonstrate the potential ubiquity of IP and the potential of SNMP. I remember the toaster well. It was impressive and fun, but also the source of ridicule. The connected toaster was for technology's sake, it didn't improve the quality of the toast or reduce the human effort. Unfairly it became the butt of every technology-gone-awry joke--not to mention the dot.com bust (2000) and the limitations of SNMP v1.
Well, it is back. Not because anyone wants it, but because we can, we have the bandwidth, the addresses (with IPv6), and the wherewithal to connect everything. We can rebuild the toaster, and make it faster, better, stronger than before (and for a lot less than $6 million).
Cisco believes the Internet is going to explode with new devices, and that seems like a reasonable bet. Cisco put together the Infographic below to illustrate the point. There is no question the Internet is growing and will continue to grow. Cisco (and Ericsson) predict that there will be 50 billion things on the Internet by 2020.
What types of things? First off, it's more of the same. Most of us expanded our arsenal of connected devices over the past few years. Perhaps from a single desktop/laptop computer to a smartphone, tablet, perhaps an e-book reader and game console. Some connected devices are transitioned from older technology, such as my television remote control that uses wi-fi instead of IR, and my DVR that I can access from my smartphone. But the biggest category represents things that we never considered connecting before such as cars, vending machines, and toasters.
I remember hearing Scott McNealy around 2000, then CEO of Sun (then tagline: the network is the computer) speak, and he pointed to the lights and said something like every light fixture should be addressable and should report when a bulb needs replacement. That idea had potential, particularly traffic lights, as their failures cause accidents. The problem was reality. The notion of running a network drop to every fixture was ridiculous as was the notion of replacing each dumb fixture with a smarter one.
Cisco's infographic illustrates the benefits of the connected cow. I used to work for a company that used electronic tags on cows to monitor their feed. The sensor technology made sure each cow got just enough feed--not too much. That company found it was more profitable to track cons, and became a leader in home arrest bracelets and monitoring. But cows or cons are more likely to be on private nets than be on the Internet.
Thanks to Network Address Translation (NAT), not everything needs a unique IP address. And thanks to various forms of gateways and private networks, not everything needs to be IP either. Toward the bottom of the infographic is the obligatory IPv6. Obligatory because 50 billion devices would not be possible without it. IPv4 worked wonderfully for decades, but the jig is up and new addresses are gone. No one wants to be accused of being short sighted, so the new model supports a much larger range.