"The wild card ... is that there are particular applications or services in the pipeline that leverage IPv6," said Infoblox Chief IPv6 Evangelist Tom Coffeen.
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.
Time to get ready
Given that most enterprises won't actually need IPv6 in order to reach their employees or customers in 2012, next year can be a time to prepare without a looming deadline, observers said.
"2012 is a great time to learn and to plan," Liu said. "Capitalize on the lead time that you have available to you." He recommended steps such as educating IT staff, getting them to experiment with IPv6 in a lab setting, and putting together a plan for deploying the new protocol on Internet-facing devices on the periphery of the network.
"Figure out how to incorporate IPv6 into your upgrade cycles and your process update cycles" to get prepared for a smooth deployment, Infoblox's Coffeen added.
Security is also something to think about soon, because it can't wait until after adopting IPv6, said Qing Li, chief scientist at BlueCoat Systems, a Web security and wide-area network optimization company. He estimated that most enterprises will take five to 10 years from the start of IPv6 adoption until they have eliminated IPv4. Using the new protocol, or a combination of the two, presents different kinds of threats, he said.
"Five to ten years is a long time. You'd better know how to secure your network in this mixed-mode environment," Li said.