More than half of new servers installed in 2009 will be virtualised, and that number will hit 80 per by 2012, according to a report from research company, TheInfoPro.

The benefits of virtualization and growing maturity of hypervisors is certainly contributing to increasing use. But the economic downturn is also forcing IT to cut back on hardware spending, and many are turning to virtualization to wring more power out of previous server investments.

In 2008, about 30 percent of new servers were virtualized, said Bob Gill, managing director of search research at TheInfoPro. The data includes all types of servers, although the trend toward virtualisation is largely being driven by the x86 market.

"It seems to many people that the party is over, that everyone is virtualising," Gill says. "But the simple fact is it's just starting to kick in."

The data is based on interviews with IT pros at 195 enterprises in North America and Europe, mainly Fortune 1000-size companies. About 10 percent of respondents report having more than 1,000 virtual machine instances, and about half have deployed at least 100 virtual machines.

VMware is still dominating the x86 virtualization market, according to IDC. In the first quarter of 2009, 50 percent of new virtualisation licences deployed on x86 servers were from VMware, and 24 percent were from Microsoft, according to IDC's Worldwide Server Virtualization Tracker.

The opportunity for Microsoft and others to take significant market share away from VMware may not come until next year, Gill said. That's because VMware's strategy has been to sell large blocks of virtualisation licenses to customers, and many customers will have to work their way through excess VMware licences before they consider switching, he said.

62 percent of respondents have tested a hypervisor other than VMware's and 30 percent said they plan to put a non-VMware hypervisor to use.

But that's not to say IT shops are dissatisfied with VMware. Only about one in ten respondents said they are considering switching away from VMware, and nearly every VMware customer expected that the company would still be on its technology roadmap in three years, the survey found. The reality is, many IT shops are choosing to use multiple hypervisors. Nearly one-third of respondents said they will support a mixed set of technologies for x86 virtualisation.

"We're going to see a very messy, heterogeneous hypervisor world," Gill says.

Questions about performance and manageability are the greatest impediments to virtualization, but these concerns are not likely to stop the upward momentum.

Customers may choose to avoid virtualizing some transactional-heavy applications like databases, but "nobody ever said 100 percent of all servers will be virtualized," Gill said.