IPv6 adoption is still sparse
But despite the impending depletion of addresses, most enterprises didn't begin upgrading to IPv6 last year. As of October, fewer than 1 percent of all subdomains under the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains had IPv6-enabled Web servers on them, according to an automated sampling commissioned by Infoblox. Notably, that survey excluded .gov and individual country domains, where use could be higher.
Most enterprises outside Asia are not acting aggressively to upgrade, and most won't next year either, according to IDC analyst Nav Chander. "Most of them understand that they can live without having to make any major investments immediately." And most carriers, though they have upgraded their own infrastructures to handle IPv6 and are offering consulting services, aren't strongly pushing customers to move to the new protocol, Chander said.
The lack of IPv4 addresses probably won't force many enterprises or carriers into IPv6 in the next few years, observers said. Most organizations that adopt IPv6 will do so with dual-stack configurations that support both protocols, and NAT (network address translation) can bridge the gap to make IPv4 resources available to IPv6-only systems and vice versa, Liu of Infoblox said.
Eventually, using NAT for every connection between new and old systems could slow down the Internet experience, but the traffic going through those systems won't be heavy enough to cause problems in 2012, Liu predicted.
BYOD isn't a threat yet
Letting employees use their own mobile phones and tablets at work (known as bring-your-own-device, or BYOD) won't force companies to use IPv6, either, Liu said. As long as the IT department has done a good job of laying out its private, internal address space, which can continue using IPv4 addresses indefinitely, there should be enough for the consumer devices, he said.
However, other trends that are expected to grow next year could help to drive adoption of IPv6. "The wild card ... is that there are particular applications or services in the pipeline that leverage IPv6," said Tom Coffeen, Infoblox's chief IPv6 evangelist.
More enterprises are now developing proprietary mobile applications, and IPv6 might allow those applications to operate in a more seamless way because of peer-to-peer capabilities built into the protocol, IDC's Chander said. For example, one large courier company is developing its own internal social networking software, he said. Companies creating those kinds of applications may put pressure on service providers to make IPv6 available, Chander said.
Meanwhile, carriers are rapidly getting more involved in the delivery of multimedia content, including building their own content delivery networks or integrating similar functions in routers, Chander said. With IPv6, packets can traverse a network directly from servers to clients, with fewer hops in between. "Content delivery over their own networks is going to be faster and more efficient with IPv6," Chander said.
It's time to get ready for IPv6
Given that most enterprises won't actually need IPv6 to reach their employees or customers in 2012, this year can be a time to prepare without a looming deadline, observers said.