Although server virtualisation is not currently as widespread as many presume, the market is growing rapidly, according to Gartner. Only 16% of workloads are running in virtual machines today, but Gartner predicts that this will rise to around 50% of x86 architecture server workloads by the end of 2012, representing approximately 58-million deployed machines.
Gartner said that the fastest growing market for virtual machines is the small business sector.

“While large organisations were quick to leverage virtual machines to reduce server sprawl and power costs, as well as conserve data-centre space, small business started late on virtualisation,” says Tom Bittman, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “However, by year-end 2010, businesses with 100-999 employees will have a higher penetration of virtual machines deployed than the Global 500.
"For years the entry point was simply too high for small businesses, but increased competition by server vendors has enabled smaller firms to embrace virtualisation.”
Gartner advocates a ‘start small, think big’ approach to virtualised server deployments that begins with a specific project but builds towards a wider strategic plan that includes management and process changes.
“Starting small both reduces risk and provides for a learning curve while building the foundations for sustainable reductions in total cost of ownership (TCO) and improvements in service quality,” says Bittman. “The other aspect, ‘thinking big’, means it’s important to proactively plan ahead for the major process and management changes virtualisation brings – not to mention how virtualisation is a path to cloud computing.”
Looking into the future at how server virtualisation will evolve, Bittman says it is important to understand that virtualisation is not cloud computing, but it enables and forces the same changes required to effectively leverage cloud computing and as such, virtualisation leads inexorably to cloud computing.
“What many organisations fail to recognise about virtualisation is that the most important changes aren’t technological, they are cultural,” says Bittman. “Virtualisation forces users to let go of the physical implementations of their services, and deal with their provider in terms of service levels and results. When a provider becomes a cloud-computing provider, users need to do a more complete job of describing their requirements in service terms.”