Virtualization, Looking Beyond the Numbers

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Oct 21, 2008

Whether you credit the bad economy or accelerated maturity, virtualization appears to have arrived. So says IDC.

Virtually Speaking: IDC has issued a report on virtualization use. As compelling as the numbers are, they tell only one part of the story.

The research firm released a report late last week, tracking virtualization use. Usage was picked over deployments chiefly because nearly all x86 servers are now shipping virtualization-enabled — even more so now that Hyper-V is gold — and mainframes and RISC servers have historically shipped that way, internetnews reported.

IDC also issued the caveat that the methodology is still evolving, as it had only just begun measuring virtualization's presence.

This is not surprising given that although the majority of enterprises have some level of virtualization going on, it would be misleading to assume that enterprise-wide they are in any stage beyond infancy. Yes, a good many of these are beyond the walls of test and dev, however, in the grand scheme of things, only a minute percentage have been virtualized.

Granted, not every server or application is a good candidate for virtualization, but a great many may well be, and how quickly that rolls over is still unknown.

For the most part, the results were unsurprising. x86 servers, for example, saw the most explosive growth, increasing more than 60 percent year-over-year growth. Itanium servers came after that, increasing their virtual presence 18 percent. In contrast, worldwide mainframe virtualization licenses declined 15 percent, and RISC servers 7 percent.

This, no doubt, is more likely a reflection on the RISC and mainframe markets than on virtualization.

The most interesting of the findings is how the x86 market is choosing to virtualize. With a 44 percent share, VMware remains the market leader for x86 boxes. But its reign is far from sacred.

Microsoft's Hyper-V, which became available as a beta back in February and went gold in June, is hot at VMware's heels. According to the survey, it now owns 23 percent of the market. That's nearly half of VMware's share, despite its multiyear lead.

Even more interesting than Microsoft's appearance at the party was its impact on software virtualization revenue relating to server. According to IDC, it increased only 15 percent in the second quarter, a growth rate that is less than half of what it was in the first quarter.

It would be easy to blame the economy, but the economy didn't begin is precipitous tank until late in the third quarter.

What does this mean for enterprises, besides never ever underestimate Microsoft?

Both a lot and not much.

Surveys provide a nice barometer for where things stand. They can be used to both persuade and dissuade, but ultimately they report. Obviously, virtualization is here, but that was pretty much an accepted fact before the survey results came out.

So what can be theorized from here: For VMware, it's further confirmation of of the grim whisperings. But VMware has set its sights on loftier visions. For Microsoft shops it's confirmation that Hyper-V is ready to roll in the enterprise, if only because other enterprises say so.

With a floundering economy, virtualization has a clear leg up over other new technologies because of its innate the ability to save money from the get go.

Its success and, more importantly, that of the vendors that play in this field, will boil down to the management tools for the various environments and interoperability between the environments.

With all of the virtualization options now free, or near free, it's not a big stretch to assume that most user enterprises will experiment with more than one technology, and ultimately more than one technology will be deployed. Thus, for tools vendors, the message is the most clear: They must develop for mixed environments or risk ending up niche players on the side lines.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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