IT departments battered by the global recession last year are increasingly adopting a "virtualize first" mentality, according to research firm IDC.
In a report April 28, IDC analysts said that 18.2 percent of all servers shipped in the fourth quarter of 2009 were virtualized, an increase from 15.2 percent in the same period in 2008.
In addition, virtualization licenses increased 13 percent year over year, according to the research firm.
Analysts said businesses are seeing not only the immediate benefits of virtualization, including cost savings and consolidation, but also understand that the technology is an important step as they continue to migrate toward cloud computing.
"2009 was a rough year for all vendors in IT, but the fourth quarter showed that end users are still hungry for virtualization software," IDC analyst Brett Waldman said in a statement. "Virtualization is no longer the cool, unproven technology that people are looking into for quick cost savings. It has matured into an integral piece of the IT infrastructure as companies move toward virtualization 3.0 and cloud computing."
IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said the growing demand for virtualization also can be seen in server shipments.
"The recovery in server spending is being led by x86 systems where virtualization continues to remain a top priority," Eastwood said in a statement. "Customers are quickly moving beyond the core hypervisor and focusing on mobility, self-provisioning, and metering and chargeback capabilities."
Given that, what will be a key technology going forward will be automation tools that help IT administrators more easily manage their virtualized environments.
"Virtual server sprawl is already a reality for many IT organizations and we expect that 2010 will be a tipping point in the adoption of new management tools and IT policies," analyst Michelle Bailey said.
Despite the strong fourth-quarter numbers, the virtualization market-like most others in the industry-was hit hard by the recession.
New server shipments virtualized during the whole of 2009 fell 5 percent, and virtualized server end-user spending for the year declined 14 percent.
Economic issues and growing competition also hit the software side of the market, with virtualization software revenue falling 10 percent in the fourth quarter. While virtualization licenses grew in the quarter, for the entire year, they fell 7 percent.
Hewlett-Packard was again the top vendor for new server shipments that were virtualized, with 38 percent market share for the quarter and for the year. Dell and IBM followed.
VMware's ESX was the top virtualization platform, with total licenses increasing 19 percent in the quarter. VMware server was the number-two platform, with Microsoft's Hyper-V coming in third, Virtual Server in fourth and Citrix Systems' XenServer rounding out the top five.