It seems everyone understands the “true picture” of the enterprise virtualization landscape. Everyone too, appears to be in a unique position to report on it. In the latest salvo, Alex Barrett, whom I admire as one of the savviest reporters on the virtualization beat, reports on findings from the TechTarget Virtualization Decisions 2009 Purchasing Intentions Survey of 666 IT professionals that have deployed or are evaluating virtualization. Data was collected between June and September 2009.

The article states: “To no one’s surprise, survey respondents reported using VMware Inc. over other virtualization software by a wide margin…But despite a fair amount of buzz, Citrix XenServer… and open source Xen variants barely registered.”

Am I surprised? Yes and no. On the one hand, this data seems to fly in the face of a flurry of new surveys from respected third party analysts, including the latest CIO Spending Survey from Goldman Sachs and data presented at VMworld from a Centrify survey. All of these show significant gains in XenServer market share this year. More importantly, they show enterprise customers expect their deployments of XenServer to increase next year. So why the huge dichotomy between the TechTarget results and every other recent customer survey?

Ignoring the temptation to deliver an easy punch line about the “666” IT admins surveyed, I think it is fair to say that the sampling methodology may have something to do with the result:

  • Who do you ask?: Sampling admins that have already deployed virtualization would inevitably bias results in favour of VMware, since they certainly have racked up the largest share of the market until now.
  • What do you ask?: XenServer is merely a feature of XenApp & XenDesktop. Every Citrix customer is entitled to full support for XenServer for these workloads. Many prefer XenServer for XenApp because we beat the pants off VMware for that workload. But their VMware virtualization administrators might not even be aware of it. My guess is that Hyper-V will similarly emerge from nowhere because it is just a role in Windows, and will grow by virtue of IT Pro adoption. Suddenly there will be lots of it, there will probably be no formal evaluation, and the VMware admin will be unaware…
  • When do you ask?: In the last couple of years VMware papered the planet with Enterprise License Agreements, to lock in customers as XenServer and Hyper-V gained traction. When those ELAs start to come up for renewal, expect customers to look around for good competitive solutions from Citrix and Microsoft.
  • Locked in loyalty: VMware has certainly done a good job of commanding the loyalty of their admins. It has given them new skills, knowledge (and hence clout), and “green cachet”. I frequently encounter resistance from VMware admins when I visit customers, suggesting that VMware has support in the rank and file, no matter how expensive they may be.
  • Missed the Big Switch?: I suspect that the TechTarget survey missed the early indications of the success of our “Big Switch”, namely the free availability of XenServer virtual infrastructure, including resource pooling, shared storage, optimal VM placement, dynamic live relo and all the rich management of XenCenter. Here’s what we know: Since XenServer was made freely available at the end of Q109,
  1. More than 170,000 users have downloaded Free XenServer, with downloads now running at about 10,000 per week.
  2. More than 50% of downloads have activated one or more licenses (indicating a PoC in progress)
  3. More than 25% of them are evaluating Citrix Essentials (meaning evaluating the production deployment of XenServer with our portfolio of automation and private cloud value-added products, which are typically 20% or so of the cost of VMware’s, and which get cheaper at the rate of Moore’s Law, since VMware licenses by CPU and we license by server.
  4. We have several Free XenServer users operating at a scale of more than 10,000 servers in production
  5. In the last quarter alone, licenses for XenServer were activated within 20% of the Fortune 500, and 10% of the Forbes Global 2000, and we added just shy of 25,000 customers.

In other words, our business has never looked better.

Other samples from the analyst community appear to tell an entirely different story. FOCUS, for example has recently published research with very different findings than the TechTarget survey. In their results they find that (emphasis is mine):

“Not surprisingly, most of the respondents are running VMware in production, including ESX (64%), ESXi (23%), and Server (GSX) (21%). However, including all platforms in use at an organization (rather than only the primary platform in use), 27% of the 239 respondents doing server virtualization are using or evaluating Citrix XenServer and 29% of the respondents are using or evaluating Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008. VMware Server (GSX) is being used by 35% of the respondents and 24% of the users are using Microsoft Virtual Server. Additionally, 23% of the respondents are running non-Citrix Xen solutions such as Open Source Xen, Sun xVM, or Oracle VM and 21% are running other virtualization solutions such as Sun Containers, or Parallels Server.”

So at worst, 27% share for Xen, biased toward evaluation (which makes sense). Yet Barrett reports 1%. Doesn’t add up.

For a change, it is nice to be in a position of not having to argue a point. We have our data. I think the market is at an inflection point: VMware put its prices up, the economy tanked, budgets have disappeared, XenServer & Hyper-V are free, and moreover, XenServer is the only product other than VMware’s that the Burton Group has stated offers 100% of the features required for Enterprise Production Virtualization.

With that, why would any smart CIO not evaluate XenServer? How long can customers put up with a vendor that imposes a tax on every CPU they put in service?

OK you number crunchers, go figure it out.