How the world is changing. For the first time ever, virtual machine shipments have overtaken those of physical servers. According to research company IDC, the number of virtual machine shipments in Europe last year topped 2 million units and is expected to grow even more in 2009.


Figures just released show that the number of server systems shipped with a virtualisation platform on top increased by 26.5 percent in 2008.


"The accelerated adoption on the x86 side of the server market is making virtualisation a crucial factor, changing the approach of suppliers and the deployment habits of customers throughout Europe," said Giorgio Nebuloni, research analyst with IDC European Systems and Infrastructure Solutions. "In 2008, approximately 18.3 percent of all servers shipped in Western Europe were virtualized, against 14.6 percent in 2007, and we expect the percentage to grow to almost 21 percent in 2010."
According to IDC, in 2009 VM shipments will exceed physical server shipments by more than 10 percent. And in 2013, the company estimates that the ratio between virtual and physical server shipments will be 3:2.
"We believe the current economic crisis to be increasingly intertwined with virtualisation adoption, as the combined need to squeeze costs with the existing assets and the weak demand for new hardware are accelerating its technological impact within customer installed bases," said Nathaniel Martinez, program director, European Enterprise Servers. "The disruption is becoming visible on the supply side as well, as server design shifts toward virtualiszation-friendly architectures in specific segments and new players enter the marketplace, attracted by the revenue potential linked with a fully virtualized x86 server stack."


But this growth in virtualisation, while bringing financial benefits can cause other problems said Nebuloni. "The deployment of virtual machines can generate sprawling environments, where IT managers lose visibility on the amount of VMs and on their actual utilization. The set up of operative procedures for virtualised environments requires an integration within the existing legacy infrastructure, which most of the times comprises midrange and mainframe pools," he said.


Nebuloni also pointed out that the increasing use of virtualisation could lead to some fundamental changes within organisations. "New practices will have to be put in place, responding to the increasing overlap in the internal areas of responsibility of the IT staff, as storage, server, and network administrators will need to cooperate more closely to tackle interconnected issues," he said.