How far will virtualisation penetrate the SME market?

So far, all the running has been in the enterprise space as companies move to consolidate and virtualise their servers but will the technology become pervasive within smaller businesses too? And if so, when will this move be?

Citrix's "strategic investment" in Kaviza has brought the question into sharp focus. On the face of it, there's no reason why smaller businesses should not go down the virtualisation path too. Last year Gartner predicted that SMEs will soon be setting the pace in this area, the organisation has predicted that by year-end 2010, enterprised with 100-999 employees will have a higher penetration of virtual machines deployed that companies in the Global 500 will have.

But it's fair to say that small and mid-sized businesses aren't buying into the virtualisation vision to the same extent. I spoke to Andy Cohen, Citrix' senior director of strategic development, shortly after the Kaviza investment. Cohen spoke about the reasons why the SME market hasn't warmed to virtualisation in the same way that large enterprises - "there isn't the level of expertise in the small businesses" he warned."The guy in charge of the servers, could be in charge of the networks and storage too, it's too much to ask him to develop expertise in virtualisation too."

So, if the expertise is not going to be picked up by the IT people working in SMEs - how will these firms get their virtualisation? That, says Cohen, is the crucial question. No-one knows whether it will delivered by the ISPs, by the virtualisation vendors, by a SaaS company such as Salesforce or by a reseller.

It's an indication of how much there is to play for in the virtualisation space - the fact that 90 percent of enterprises now have embarked down the virtualisation road masks the fact that a large number of companies haven't dipped their toes in that particular water yet. How they get there is going to lead to an interesting few years.

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