There are many barometers for technological success, and analyst opinions serve as both harbingers and pulse checkers. In the case of virtualization, the indicators have gotten increasingly projectile-like in the past year to 18 months.
Last week, it was Forrester's turn to weigh-in. In its report, "Despite Challengers, VMware Will Continue To Lead Server Virtualization," author Frank E. Gillett theorized that VMware's hold on the market will not be short-lived.
The consensus on VMware's penetration among the analyst firms is 51 percent. The numbers are less consensual after that, but XenSource and Microsoft Virtual Server follow in second and third for market share, and Virtual Iron, SWsoft and various other vendors pick up the remainder.
Forrester believes this will not change any time soon. The research firm stated in the report, "VMware will be everywhere, and it will continue to lead over the next two years."
Later, it added, "VMware will be the strongest virtualization infrastructure provider throughout this period, as measured by product offering, number of customers and revenues."
Although the vendor, "finally faces real competition, they're late to the game and will be in catchup mode for years."
This includes Microsoft, whose hypervisor, Viridian, is now delayed until six months past when Windows Server 2008 ships. The delay, combined with VMware's substantial lead, means Viridian will not challenge VMware's "infrastructure vision" until 2010, the report said.
Forrester also expects VMware to face competition from XenSource, but not enough to loosen its hold. Here, too, 2010 is pegged as the watershed year. At that point, the company will be big enough to provide "many mass market customers the comfort to buy from a vendor."
Ultimately, VMware will retain its hold because, "As firms convert from tactical to strategic virtualization, only VMware will have the goods."
Gartner concurs that VMware will dominate for the remainder of the decade. It puts some caveats in place, however.
Thomas Bittman in his address, "Virtualization and the New Computing Architecture" at last month's IT Infrastructure, Operations & Management Summit in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. noted that although VMware will lead, "price (and EMC's dependence on VMware revenue) will be a major issue, unless VMware rapidly expands into higher levels of operations automation."
Gartner also believes that competition will come chiefly from Microsoft with Viridian in 2008, and (to a lesser degree) from Xen.
Bittman said, "Xen-based solutions will likely gain a foothold in the Linux-only market, but will struggle in heterogeneous and enterprise deployments against VMware. Microsoft will gradually own majority share in the Windows market (much of which is untapped today)."
"VMware should be the primary choice for all mission-critical deployments through mid-2008," which is when Viridian will come on the scene.
Long term, Bittman said, VMware's business will need to center around virtual infrastructure management, if it is to be "successful against the coming Microsoft juggernaut."
To do so, VMware will need an even stronger foothold on which to build, as it will be easier to sell management offerings to existing VMware customers in a post-Viridian world. Bittman believes that to do this, VMware will need to radically change its pricing and approach. 2007 will be a critical year for this.
Forrester, however, sees another issue for VMware. One that may not come from the direct competitors themselves. Intel and AMD are boosting virtualization support in CPUs, which may give VMware competitors a boost. The chip makers have already released Intel VT and AMD-V, and features that accelerate virtualization performance memory, CPU, and I/O sharing are in the works. Although, VMware is taking advantage of these features, their availability at the chip level means competitors will be able to "bypass the painstaking engineering that VMware originally had to create without CPU support."
Intel, for now, appears to be wagering heavily on VMware, at least through its pocketbook. Last week, it announced plans to acquire 2.5 percent of VMware in its upcoming IPO.
Provisioning the Desktop
VMware may reign as virtualization king on the server, but the desktop is another landscape entirely.
Virtualized desktops, according to many, have to potential to be big. Really big. Bigger, some are saying, than servers.
Provision Networks is one company that banking on that. Its Virtual Access Suite (available in three editions Desktop Services, Standard and Enterprise) combines the technology of Microsoft Terminal Services for desktop application delivery and deployment using blade PCs (and other desktops) on the client side and virtual infrastructures, including VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, Virtual Iron, XenEnterprise, Microsoft Virtual Server and SWsoft Virtuozzo, on the server side.
Like many ISVs, Provision Networks depends 100 percent on value-added resellers to sell its offering. It currently claims close to 400 channel partners worldwide, Paul Ghostine, co-founder and CEO, told ServerWatch. Partnerships with the major OEMs help to this end.
In the past month, Provision has inked two such deals.
In late June, HP agreed to sell and distribute Provisions entire product portfolio as part of its HP Virtual Desktop Infrastructure offering. HP's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure brings together the hardware, management software, virtualization software and services necessary for an implementation.
This week, Provision announced Virtual Access Suite received the Big Blue seal of approval. IBM added Virtual Access Suite to its Virtual Client Solution (VCS) ecosystem, making it part of the System x Channel System, Ghostine said. The two companies are collaborating in the field to promote widespread adoption of VCS.
Ghostine noted that the biggest difference in the two deals is that IBM will be recommending and promoting the Provision product, whereas HP will be selling it.
Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.