Is VMware's dominance of the virtualization market under threat?
A new survey seems to show that VMware’s iron grip on the enterprise virtualization market is loosening, with 38 percent of businesses planning to switch vendors within the next year due to licensing models and the robustness of competing hypervisors.
But VMware has dominated the virtualization market for so many years that the massive shift found in the survey may take longer than expected, if it happens at all. The virtualization layer, primarily composed of VMware software, has so many hooks into security, backup, automation, disaster recovery and various management tools that swapping hypervisors is no simple matter, argues an analyst who read the results of the survey, but was not involved in conducting it.
First, let’s take a look at the survey results. Virtualization management firm Veeam Software commissioned an ongoing, quarterly study by Vanson Bourne, a market research company, which in the third quarter 2011 surveyed IT decision-makers at 578 businesses with at least 1,000 employees in the United States and Europe. The survey sample is not limited to Veeam customers.
VMware has a big lead, at least for now
The survey found that VMware is the primary hypervisor for server virtualization in 67.6 percent of shops, followed by Microsoft’s Hyper-V with 16.4 percent and Citrix with 14.4 percent. These numbers seem more or less in line with results of other, similar market studies.
What’s surprising is the Veeam study found that 38 percent of enterprises plan to change their primary hypervisor for server virtualization within the next year, while 33.8 percent said they would change their primary hypervisor for desktop virtualization.
“The main concerns driving this for both types of virtualization are: concerns around costs; licensing models; and the features and maturity that other hypervisors can offer,” Veeam said.
Results are questioned
But Gartner analyst Chris Wolf questions the results. A longtime virtualization analyst with the Burton Group and now Gartner, Wolf tells Ars, “The fact that almost 40 percent are saying they’re going to change out a primary hypervisor in 12 months seems absurd to me. There are so many hooks into the hypervisor,” making a large-scale shift difficult. Given the security, backup, automation and disaster recovery processes tied into the hypervisor, Wolf notes that “there’s a lot more moving parts besides converting a VM. That’s typically the easy part.”
The shift toward cloud-like models within enterprise data centers is about consolidation and tearing down silos, not creating new ones by introducing new hypervisors, he said. Wolf says organizations are sometimes using one hypervisor for most server virtualization and a second for hosting virtual desktops, but implementing two hypervisors for the same purpose forces businesses to have two sets of management processes. Wolf did not mention a related factor: VMware’s industry-leading management tools work only with its own hypervisor.
“When you add a second hypervisor to the data center you start recreating some of the DR problems you initially used virtualization to resolve,” Wolf said. “What you’re saving on initial capex and licensing, the tradeoff is most likely added TCO [total cost of ownership].”
Will Hyper-V rise?
But that’s not to say VMware’s competitors don’t have a chance. Hyper-V and Citrix have both improved, and the next version of Hyper-V included in Windows Server 8 will boast greater scalability and a new virtual machine replication feature. Microsoft and Citrix also have heterogeneous management tools that can handle both their own hypervisors and VMware’s.
Further, VMware’s pricing changes announced earlier this year have alienated some customers, who are questioning whether the management benefits offered by VMware are worth the extra cost. For small businesses just getting started in virtualization, switching hypervisors may not be all that difficult. But VMware is entrenched in the largest organizations, with 955 members of the Fortune 1000 counted as VMware customers.
Gartner’s own numbers suggest that 76 percent of the entire x86 server virtualization market belongs to VMware, and that by the end of this year 50 percent of x86 server workloads will be virtualized.
The concerns cited by customers in the Veeam survey are legitimate as well. 46.8 percent of those seeking to change their primary hypervisor pinpointed the licensing model as a factor, likely stemming from VMware’s pricing changes. Further, 47.4 percent noted the features offered by alternative hypervisors and 41.6 percent noted the increasing maturity of alternative hypervisors.
VMware shops are certainly kicking the tires on Hyper-V and deploying it at least in test and development scenarios, and Microsoft is trying to lay the groundwork for both small businesses and enterprises to switch from VMware to Hyper-V. If 38 percent of businesses do change primary hypervisors within the next year, the folks in Redmond are likely to be the major beneficiary.