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VMware Rivals Closing Virtualization Gap: Gartner

Virtualization workloads will grow fivefold by 2015, reports Gartner Magic Quadrant report. Where do Citrix Xen and Microsoft Hyper-V fit in?

According to Gartner, the number of virtualization workloads is set to grow fivefold by 2015, and the market no longer belongs solely to VMware.

In a Magic Quadrant report published last week, the analyst firm for the first time rated two other vendors as "leaders" in virtualization. Citrix's XenServer and Microsoft's Hyper-V have joined VMware in the top-right quadrant, though both lag way behind it in market share.

So what's changed from a year ago, when VMware had the leader space all to itself? The Gartner report notes that Microsoft increased its share among mid-market users new to virtualization, while Citrix is leveraging both desktop virtualization and its free offering.

Citrix attributes its new recognition to a change in rating criteria. "Gartner has expanded the scope of the report, and I think that benefits us," said Derek Slayton, senior director of product management at Citrix, in an interview. As well as desktop virtualization, he notes Citrix's strength in the cloud, another area that differs from the traditional data center server virtualization

But Citrix and Microsoft shouldn't celebrate too much. Whereas some Magic Quadrant reports leave vendors anxiously counting the pixels separating them from their competitors, Gartner still rates VMware way ahead in both vision and execution. The report notes that "VMware continues to set the standard in products and the pace in terms of strategy," noting its success in reducing hypervisor footprint with ESXi and in moving into the cloud service provider market.

Although Gartner ranks Microsoft and Citrix roughly equally as challengers to VMware, most market share figures put Microsoft in a clear second place--something Citrix admits. "There are different numbers out there," said Slayton. "We see Citrix at 15-20%, Microsoft about 25%, VMware above 50%." Others put VMware's share as high as 80%, the discrepancy caused by uncertainty over how many enterprises actually use the versions of XenServer that are downloaded free or of Hyper-V that are bundled with Windows Server in production.

Rival analyst firm Info-Tech Research reaches a similar conclusion to Gartner in a new Vendor Landscape report. The main difference is that its "champion" quadrant (the equivalent of Gartner's leaders) includes only VMware and Citrix, largely because of the strong emphasis it places on price. The report notes that both "Microsoft and Citrix have been catching up in functionality," but that "manageable licensing costs for XenServer are a huge plus." Citrix cites its commitment to open source as an advantage. "We give a very functional server and management stack away for free," said Slayton.

Info-Tech's focus on cost is also clear in its relative optimism about Red Hat, whose KVM technology has recently been gaining increased support from vendor partners such as IBM. The Info-Tech report notes that "Red Hat is making up considerable ground," whereas to Gartner it's the lowest-ranked of three niche players, the others being Oracle and Parallels. In the case of virtualization, a niche player means one mainly confined to existing customers, for example enterprises that need to virtualize Oracle applications or Red Hat Linux.

While Info-Tech suggests that many enterprises will eventually run more than one hypervisor, few are doing so at present. Gartner notes that although the virtualization market has doubled in the last year, only 40% of x86 workloads are currently virtualized. Its report also says that "smaller enterprises and those in emerging economies are just starting out, or haven't started yet," but that they are set to begin soon.

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