Sales of server hardware and software for virtualisation in the fourth quarter of 2009 increased for the first time in a year in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to an IDC report.

Shipments of physical servers destined for virtualisation duty in Europe, the Middle East and Africa increased by 2.8 per cent during the last three months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008, according to IDC. Also, virtualisation software revenue rose by 3.9 per cent in the same period. It was the first quarter since the last three months in 2008 that sales in those two areas achieved year-over-year increases, according to IDC.

There are several reasons for the increase. Companies have been using virtualisation to be able to use existing hardware longer. However, that doesn't work indefinitely, and there was pent-up demand for server hardware during the fourth quarter, according to Nathaniel Martinez, program director at IDC's EMEA Systems and Infrastructure Solutions group. Sales have been helped by an increasing use of server virtualisation by small and medium-sized companies, as well, Martinez said.

Going forward, the growing popularity of desktop virtualisation will help drive the sales of server virtualisation, according to Martinez. Other workloads that are being virtualised more often include Exchange and SQL Server, he said.

VMware is still the biggest virtualisation software vendor, according to IDC. In the fourth quarter, the company delivered more licencees than Microsoft, Citrix and Parallels put together. VMware's revenue is also more twice that of the three other vendors combined, IDC said.

However, that doesn't mean VMware's dominance is set in stone. Customers are becoming less religious about their choice of vendor, and are willing to use more than one virtualisation platform and switch between different vendors, according to Martinez.