2006: The Year of Serving Virtually

Industry watchers say we’ll soon see explosive interest in server virtualization

According to market watcher International Data Corp. (IDC), the rest of the IT industry has at long last caught on to something that mainframe pros have known for years: virtualization—of CMOS resources, especially—matters.

It matters so much, in fact, that 2006 could well mark a year of explosive interest in server virtualization, as vendors such as EMC Corp. (via its VMWare assets), Microsoft Corp., and others pursue ambitious virtualization strategies.

That’s the upshot of recent research from IDC, which expects that virtualization, the availability of commodity multicore chips from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc., and a host of other salient trends will shape the IT market-scape in 2006.

“Software vendors and end-users alike will be faced with important decisions, driven by changes that include the spread of virtualization, volume shipment of multi-core chip technologies, and the increased demand for IT process improvements to better support the business,” said Tim Grieser, vice president of System Management Software at IDC, in a statement. “IDC's top ten predictions provides a set of guideposts to key market trends in 2006.”

Virtualization, perhaps more than any other trend, will decisively impact this year’s IT market, IDC predicts. Not only do commercial entries—such as VMWare’s ESX and GSX Server offerings, along with Microsoft’s Virtual Server product and SWSoft Inc.’s Virtuozzo—continue to gestate and mature, but open-source virtualization projects (such as the all-but-ubiquitous Xen effort) are also coming to the fore. Xen, in particular, has encouraged a number of commercial ISVs (such as XenSource Inc. and Virtual Iron Software Inc.) to challenge entrenched players such as EMC/VMWare. At the same time, IDC researchers caution, not all potential customers understand the benefits of (or business case for) virtualization, which makes education important, too.

To some extent, interest in virtualization is yoked to the emergence of multicore commodity chips, such as Intel’s Xeon and AMD’s Opteron chips. IDC says Intel-based multicore chip designs will begin to dominate volume hardware shipments in the second half of 2006. Such chips give customers more processing bang for the buck—and even more incentive to virtualize their server resources—but won’t immediately trigger a surge in multicore-ready system software or system management software license revenues, IDC researchers predict.

IDC isn’t alone in predicting a gangbuster year for server virtualization. Market watcher Forrester Research, for example, recently reported that server virtualization has surpassed all other forms of infrastructure virtualization, including storage and network resource virtualization.

Forrester recorded strong recognition for server virtualization (with 75 percent of 1,221 enterprises reporting that they were at least aware of such technologies) as well as encouraging uptake—with 26 percent of enterprises having implemented server virtualization solutions and eight percent planning to pilot such solutions by this summer. Forrester explicitly contrasted server virtualization with computational grids, noting that the latter frequently require architectural changes while server virtualization lets companies effectively encapsulate applications into “containers” that can be moved between physical servers.

Not surprisingly, Forrester found, North American companies are ahead of the curve in terms of adopting server virtualization solutions, with EU firms second overall. In spite of EMC/VMWare’s pioneering track record and dominance in North America, Forrester found that Microsoft not only leads in the EU, but is a favorite among large enterprise customers.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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