Volume 4, Number 13 -- April 10, 2007

Is the Adoption Rate of Server Virtualization Technology Over Estimated?

Published: April 10, 2007

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

According to a new report issued by The Strategic Counsel, a consultancy based in Toronto, and commissioned by systems software maker CA, the adoption rate of server virtualization technologies might not be as high as many surveys seem to indicate. It all depends on how you ask the question.

The consensus out there in the server industry is that somewhere around 5 percent and well south of 10 percent of the servers that are sold each day have virtualization technology in one of its myriad forms sold along with that box. This is not a very high penetration rate. However, many surveys in the past few years have shown that server virtualization has been adopted at a very high rate. So CA had the Strategic Counsel put together a survey to try to get to the bottom of that issue.

The Strategic Counsel surveyed 808 IT decision makers in companies of all sorts and with a rather heavy distribution of sites skewed toward fairly large organizations. Over half of the respondents had between 1,000 and 10,000 employees, while another 26 percent had even more employees. Only 23 percent of those surveyed had between 500 and 999 employees, and no one at a company with fewer employees was asked to participate in the survey. Forget for a moment that this is not a representative distribution for the whole server market. It is, however, representative of the high-end of the midrange server space and the enterprise server space, roughly speaking, and data centers for these companies have been using machines with various kinds of hardware and software partitioning for quite some time.

According to the survey respondents, 720 of the 808 companies that participated in the CA-commissioned server virtualization study said that they had either deployed virtualization technologies or planned to do so within the next 18 months, with the remaining 92 saying that they would not. That is an 89 percent penetration rate. So server virtualization is pervasive, right? Maybe not. The Strategic Counsel was honest that it threw out 946 other people who responded to the survey because they did not agree that operating system, hardware virtualization, hard partitions (logical or virtual), or clustering were kinds of server virtualization. When you throw the companies back into the pool who obviously have no idea what server virtualization is--even though it is probably a feature on their servers even if they don't know about it--then the adoption rate for server virtualization technologies among fairly large organizations is a mere 39 percent.

In any event, the study that CA commissioned has lots of other interesting bits of data in it, and you can take a gander at it here. The fact that the study lumped IBM's logical partition (LPAR) into the same basket as Hewlett-Packard's nPar hardware partitions is a bit weird, since LPARs are every bit as virtualized as VMware's ESX Server and GSX Server, Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005, and Sun Microsystems's Solaris Containers. In fact, IBM LPARs are in many ways a much more virtualized way of carving up servers, since LPARs can be fractions of CPUs and span across an entire IBM system with 16, 32, or 64 cores. Sun's Dynamic Domains are correctly identified as hardware partitions.

While it is easy to pick on definitions, the fact remains that the study does give some insight into the penetration of these technologies. Some 77 percent of shops using IBM iron said that they have or will deploy LPARs (this is obviously in the subset of people who knew what server virtualization was), followed by 71 percent for HP nPars and 59 percent for Sun domains. Some 58 percent of those polled said they had or will deploy VMware GSX Server, followed by 50 percent for ESX Server. Microsoft VS 2005 is the big winner in this poll, with 82 percent of those polled saying they have or will deploy it, while Solaris containers have been or will be adopted by 43 percent of those polled.

It is interesting to ponder these numbers, but the study did not actually count virtual machines and physical machines at companies and do a sum across all companies to come up with averages per employee for physical and virtual servers. Or, if the Strategic Counsel did such math, it didn't give away that data in the public report. But this is the math that needs to be done. It would also be interesting to know what percent of total servers (physical plus virtual) are virtualized today, and how companies expect that ratio to change over time. Moreover, a true count would have to ask companies how many virtual machines they have in reserve--virtual instances that are not deployed right now, but which are sitting in a library, waiting to be deployed when they are needed. What you really want to know is how many physical machines are there, how many potential virtual machines can be deployed on them, and how many virtual machines, on average, actually get deployed.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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