If you’re thinking of adopting virtualisation throughout your enterprise, you’re not alone. According to IDC, more than 50 per cent of physical servers will be virtualised by 2011. Such is the growth in the technology in fact, that the physical server is expected to slow to a crawl within a few years.

Virtualisation pushes all the right buttons: it offers CIOs a way to maximise resources and offers an opportunity to create power savings – given the pressure on most companies to reduce their carbon footprint, that’s another huge plus.

In addition, as the virtualisation market is dominated by VMware, there is the chance to move to a world away from Microsoft: an attractive option for any CIO wary of being too dependent on a single dealer.

Virtualisation cost savings

An organisation running 250 dual-core servers can gain a cost saving of £2 million over three years from server consolidation alone.

A further saving of £78,000 per 1,000 PCs per year could be realised by moving from a full desktop PCs infrastructure, to a server-hosted desktop virtualisation environment.

Learning from history

We’ve been here before. Back in 1995, Microsoft was losing market share to Netscape in the burgeoning web browser market. After a frantic about-face, the company was forced to develop Internet Explorer or risk losing out. We all know that history repeats itself; so it’s no real surprise to find Microsoft lagging behind once again in the nascent virtualisation market.

Is that now about to change? In September, Microsoft announced its plans to roll out the virtualisation element (previously code-named Viridian) of the Windows Server 2008 release. As with many of Microsoft’s releases, this has taken longer to come to market than was expected – and it’s being offered missing several components of the projected release, notably a Live Migration feature that would have allowed users to move workloads between virtualised servers without any downtime .

Hypervisors

There are two types of hypervisors, called, rather unimaginatively, Type 1 and Type 2. The former is software that runs on any given hardware platform. Examples include Xen and ESX Server. Type 2 hypervisor is software that runs within an operating system and therefore needs a ‘guest’ operating system running above it.

Examples include Microsoft’s Virtual Server and SWSoft .

But at least it’s on its way and will offer CIOs a genuine option. The problem is that, so far, this has just been released to a select few testers: the full implementation won’t be ready until next year and Microsoft might be even further behind by then.

It’s up against some stiff competition from VMware. The market leader has upgraded its ESX Server. The new version (3i) is offering an independent hypervisor, ie the hypervisor is being offered without a Service Console and will be integrated within other servers. This has enabled VMware to drop the size of the software from 2Gb to 32Mb. The software will be embedded in the server’s flash memory and will present users with the option of running a physical server or a virtual server right from the outset.

Follow the leader

That flexibility is already attracting server dealers. IBM and Fujitsu Siemens have announced that they will be adopting 3i within their own servers: other dealers are expected to follow suit. VMware has set a high standard for others to follow.

What is really making the virtualisation market exciting is that other companies are joining the party: AMD and Intel are both developing their processors to be optimised for virtualisation support. And Cisco is also joining in the fun. What is certain to happen is that virtualisation is going to be an integral part of datacentre architecture.

The question therefore, seems to be not ‘if’ but ‘when’, the only decision to be made by Microsoft-based enterprises is whether to wait to see what Redmond has to offer or opt for the market-leading VMware.