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IDC Takes First Hard Look at Virtualization Market

Virtualization isn't just a buzzword anymore.

Instead, it's not only being deployed in the enterprise but is growing at tremendous rates. That finding is according to IDC, that tracker of all kinds of facts and figures on tech, which issued its first-ever Worldwide Quarterly Server Virtualization Tracker -- signaling that the technology has matured to the point it now warrants its own category for monitoring.

Virtualization license shipments for the second quarter of 2008 increased 53 percent over the prior quarter but were up 72 percent over the same quarter last year, IDC said. If there are any signs of slowdown, it's because the market is maturing, it added.

The x86 server segment led the way with 60 percent year-over-year growth, followed by the Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) server market -- that is, Intel's Itanium -- with 18 percent growth. Worldwide mainframe and RISC server virtualization licenses declined 15 percent and 7 percent year over year, respectively.

However, Brett Waldman, research analyst for system software at IDC, cautioned this is the company's first stab at measuring the virtualization market, and that the methods for measurement are still a work in progress.

"We're tracking usage, not deployments," he explained to InternetNews.com. Since all mainframes and virtually all x86 and RISC servers are shipping with a hypervisor, it's not right to track the installed base of the software.

IDC took a while to issue such a report. For one thing, the market was only VMware (NYSE: VMW) for a long time, so there wasn't a whole lot of interesting stuff to track. Additionally, IDC needed some time for the competition to play in the market for patterns to emerge.

Waldman said one pattern demonstrates the rapid commoditization of hypervisors, a trend that became obvious following Microsoft's entry into the market with Hyper-V, which it distributes for free with Windows Server 2008. The impact of Microsoft's joining the fray with its free offering resulted in software revenue relating to server virtualization increasing only 15 percent increase during Q2, as compared to 32 percent growth in Q1.

"Things are starting to become very competitive, with the hypervisor itself becoming very low to almost no-cost," he said. "The real interesting areas are going to be in the management of virtualization and how companies can manage their physical and virtual servers together."

VMware was the shipment leader on x64 boxes, with a 44 percent share, while Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), starting from way behind VMware's multiyear lead, already has 23 percent of shipments.

On the hardware side, HP held 34 percent of the total hypervisor market and saw 52 percent growth. But Dell, on a hot streak, soared 110 percent to hold 29 percent of hypervisors shipped. IBM was third, with 16 percent of hypervisors shipped.

Waldman said large enterprises have been quickest to embrace virtualization. "One of the main reasons large enterprises were quick to adopt it was they saw a large return on investment with server consolidation," he said.

"With x86, over the years, we'd seen a lot of server sprawl because you were doing one workload per server," he added. "With virtualization, they saw it was easy to logically partition multiple servers on a single physical server."

Meanwhile, small to midsized businesses were slow to embrace virtualization, in many cases not seeing an immediate return on investment, or lacking the necessary in-house technical expertise to leverage the technology. That hasn't proved much of an issue for those companies, however, since their consolidation needs aren't as critical as large enterprises.

The enterprises are already moving beyond just consolidation into new usages, as well. New uses include business continuity like high availability and disaster recovery, and they are also starting to look into emerging ways of tapping the technology, like virtual client computing.

Still, Waldman also said there are certain workloads that aren't being virtualized today. Those are the most mission-critical and the ones with the heaviest I/O, since I/O performance remains one of the lingering problems of virtualized machines.

"Very few are virtualizing their ERP systems."