Hypervisors are just the skirmish before the virtualisation war proper, according to vendors and analysts, with virtualisation management set to pull in the big money in years to come.
In recent times, much of the virtualisation discussion has centred around who will "own" the hypervisor, Nick Van der Zweep, HP director of virtualisation and product management, said at the company's Asia Pacific and Japan Executive Forum in Bali last month. However, according to Van der Zweep: "There will be no one hypervisor. There will be many. And there will be many in each company."
Currently VMware holds a dominant position in the market, with its virtualisation software deployed in over 70 percent of the world's large enterprise datacentres, according to industry analysts Ovum.
VMware won't hold its position indefinitely due to cost issues, Van der Zweep said, citing many customer comments on the expense of the company's hypervisor. Cost concerns have left an open door for competitors such as Microsoft's Hyper-V, he added, predicting an upcoming fall in prices.
It's a stance shared by Gartner managing vice president Phil Sargeant, although he notes there is some breathing room in the market while Microsoft's Hyper-V is in the beta stage. "There is a window of opportunity before the price erodes markedly," he said.
As prices fall, VMWare, Microsoft and open-source hypervisor Xen-based brands, including Citrix which recently bought XenSource, will be the main three players in the market, according to HP's Van der Zweep.
Gartner's Sargeant concurs: "I can't see many other players."
As hypervisors not only become ubiquitous but also drop in price, the three vendors will look for revenues elsewhere, Sargeant said. "They're not going to make any money out of the hypervisor," he added. "The value add will come on top."
Citrix is the first to admit its intentions in this area. "We see the hypervisor as a commodity item," Toby Knight, manager of systems engineering and solutions architecture ANZ, said. "We see the real value not in the hypervisor but in the management."
But Citrix will not be alone. "Everyone's going to be after the same market," Gartner's Sargeant said.
However, the virtualisation market is far from saturated: in a recent report, Gartner found only six percent of the x86 server virtualisation market has been addressed.
"We've only hit the tip of the iceberg," HP's Van der Zweep said. "In the SMB space, things are just starting to move, and none of the vendors have sold much here, and that is where the big volumes will be."
The SME sector is where Microsoft will benefit, according to Gartner's Sargeant: "The potential for Microsoft is small to medium businesses," he said. "VMware will probably still have the bulk of enterprises."
Citrix hopes to differentiate itself from VMware by focusing on the physical as well as the virtual. According to Citrix's Knight, some applications don't run well in the virtual environment with the company hoping to differentiate itself by putting "the workload on the right device on at the right time".
"There is an element of truth in that," Gartner's Sargeant said, adding: "VMWare is focused predominantly on the virtual stuff."
While hypervisors may be on every server, it's no sure thing they will actually get used. Gary Burgess, vice president at researchers Ideas International, points to issues such as companies not being comfortable with the technology and licensing issues with application software as factors which could slow down adoption.
In a recent blog, Burgess also cited issues such as lack of skills necessary for the technology, fear of hidden costs and concerns about risk, with having multiple applications on one physical server — if it goes down, everything goes down with it — as having the potential to hold back adoption.
Gartner's Sargeant agrees that companies will need new skills to accommodate virtualised environments. "Virtualisation will change a lot of what users have been doing in the past: it changes what they buy, it changes how they operate within a virtualised environment and it will change things such as the way they approach backup/recovery and disaster recovery," he said. In those organisations that cannot easily quantify the advantages in the technology, the costs of these extra skills will not be justified, he added.
He also agrees there will be hidden costs, such as companies now buying larger servers with the associated costs to go with them: "The bottom line is whether these additional costs are offset by the advantages they gain from a virtualised environment."
As for putting "more eggs in the one basket", Sargeant again says it is a matter of looking at the gains versus the risks. "It's a balancing act," he said.