IPv6 Industrial Wireless Process Automation  iStock/ThinkStock

We now live in an age where just about every piece of information we interact with is stored on computers and/or connected to the Internet. While the world of industry may have lagged behind the consumer marketplace in this respect, industrial systems are growing more “connected” with each passing day. As the points of connection continue to rise, the standards and protocols for managing them grow more important. This is where Internet Protocol (IP) comes into play.

The initial idea behind internet protocol (IP) was essentially to build a directory for Internet addresses. As more and more systems have come online, the number of IP addresses has surged into the trillions, and issues such as cybersecurity have risen into prominence.

The first major release of IP was IPv4, and IPv6 is its burgeoning successor. The most notable difference between IPv4 and IPv6 is that it provides a larger address space to accommodate the growing number of connected devices. But there are many other capabilities that go along with the latest version of IP, such as automated discovery of routers, neighborhood resolution, duplicate address detection, neighbor unreachability detection, and, notably, more robust cybersecurity features.

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Kevin Davenport, business development manager at Cisco, says one of the key cybersecurity features of IpV6 is First Hop Security (FHS), which is designed to secure and optimize IPv6 link operations. The FHS solution protects networks by mitigating attacks, such as router impersonation, address theft, address spoofing, and remote address resolution cache exhaustion. It also covers IPv6 link operation vulnerabilities and scalability issues in large Layer 2 domains.

“A majority of industrial cell communications on the plant floor occurs at Layer 2 (at the switch),” says Davenport. “In fact, the Layer 2 domain is playing an increasingly important role, with the IT (enterprise) and OT (operational technology—converged networks, server virtualization), Layer 2 mobility, etc., all resulting in larger Layer 2 domains.”

This change brings with it an increasing number of challenges, says Davenport, such as security and scalability. In parallel, he says IPv6 has been gaining momentum as the next generation IP, while the IPv4 address space continues to run out.

“If I had to select a single reason why IPv6 is important for industrial automation and control systems going forward, I would say ‘security,’” says Davenport. “Today, all operating systems—from servers to laptops to handheld devices—support IPv6 (as well as IPv4). If you spend millions of dollars securing your IPv4 infrastructures, but don’t consider IPv6, you are vulnerable to a broader potential set of security holes.”

More generically, Davenport says IPv6 is important because it is the new Internet Protocol version that is expected to be the future protocol standard for years to come. “If you want to ensure a competitive advantage by developing an infrastructure that’s future-proof, deploying a converged network architecture based on IPv6 is imperative,” says Davenport. FC

Jake Mastroianni is the managing editor of Flow Control magazine. He can be reached at JMastroianni@GrandViewMedia.com. Follow Jake on Google+.