Research house Gartner recently published its Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure, and a very interesting reading it makes.
The first intriguing little nugget the report reveals is that, according to Gartner, roughly two thirds of x86 server workloads are now virtualized. That figure is necessarily vague, but it's always useful to hear what the latest estimate is.
And clearly there's a long way to go before every workload in every organization is running on a virtual server.
What about news as to who is coming out on top in the virtualization technology market place? Gartner is very "new age" when it comes to talking about companies, and instead of declaring winners and losers, it talks about leaders, challengers, visionaries and niche players.
Nonetheless, some things are pretty clear: the leaders/winners are VMware and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft.
Three Becomes Two: Whither Citrix?
While that may not exactly be drop-your-bacon-sandwich surprising, what's interesting is not who's in that select group of companies, but who isn't. There always used to be three companies in the virtualization technologies leaders quadrant and now there are only two. What's happened to Citrix?
The answer from Gartner is that Citrix has dropped from the "leaders" category into the "visionaries" category, which means in Gartner's view the company has a less complete vision and less ability to execute at this time than either Microsoft and VMware.
So where has it all gone wrong for Citrix? According to Gartner, "Citrix has not kept pace with the other vendors with server virtualization over the past year, in either functionality or market share."
Essentially Citrix's strategy in the enterprise has been tied to desktop virtualization (through XenDesktop and XenApp), and it has attracted significantly less interest from customers looking to virtualize server workloads. And because the interest in desktop virtualization has leveled off, that's had an effect on Citrix's standing.
But it's not time to sound the death knell for Citrix by any means. The company has 200,000 loyal customers, by Gartner's count, and as well as being involved in desktop virtualization, Citrix is also active in mobile and BYOD initiatives with XenMobile and CloudGateway for private clouds.
And don't forget that Citrix has a large presence in the public cloud as well. The company has a big opportunity in the public cloud services provider market that relies heavily on the open source Xen hypervisor, Gartner points out.
It's only the server virtualization side that may be in the process of being de-emphasized by Citrix. As Gartner puts it, "… it is apparent that Citrix is willing to sacrifice the server platform to Microsoft and Hyper-V to grow its desktop virtualization business."
That's probably sensible given the formidable competition in the server virtualization space posed by the hypervisors from VMware and Microsoft.
Red Hat's Role as a 'Niche Player'
It's at the wrong end of the scale, in the area that Gartner euphemistically reserves for "niche players," that Red Hat is currently wallowing with its kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) technology.
Red Hat has long promised great things for KVM and its Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) system, which includes virtual machine management and other advanced features like live storage migration.
But the problem lies in the company's strategy of getting companies that have virtualized their Windows servers on VMware (or Hyper-V) to virtualize their Linux systems on Red Hat, which just doesn't seem to be taking off in a big way.
"Red Hat has generally not been able to dislodge VMware in its RHEL accounts, and it has not succeeded in driving the Linux-managed infrastructure toward greater budgetary allowance and virtualization independence," Gartner says. "We would attribute these issues as execution problems stemming from an incoherent vision and lack of demonstrable product maturity." Ouch.
The companies that have embraced Red Hat virtualization tend to be ones that are "strategically" disposed to open source software and Red Hat, and willing to pace and time their deployments to Red Hat's roadmap, Gartner adds.
There are two other companies that feature in the magic quadrant: Parallels and Oracle. Parallels is only of marginal interest, and Oracle is only of interest in a very specific case — when you are dealing with Oracle applications. Suffice it so say that neither company's virtualization offerings have moved far in the magic quadrant in the last couple of years, although it is worth noting that Oracle has edged above Citrix in the "ability to execute" stakes.
So to summarize the state of play in virtualization right now: VMware leads, Microsoft is closing fast, Citrix is losing ground, and Red Hat is still bringing up the rear. And that's pretty much all you need to know.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.