It's getting harder for VMware to argue that it's the only game in town for big-time virtualization projects.
Sure, every member of the Fortune 100 is a VMware customer, even rival Microsoft. But VMware is no longer the only vendor at the top of the x86 virtualization market, according to Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant.
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The prestigious ranking, released last week, places Microsoft and Citrix in the Leaders Quadrant along with VMware. Last year, VMware was listed as the only leader, with its rivals in lower tiers.
Gartner still lists VMware first among the three leaders, with Microsoft second and Citrix third. But given than Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix's XenServer are cheaper -- and perhaps nearly as good as VMware -- customers can justifiably seek alternatives. Oracle, Parallels and Red Hat are called niche players in the Gartner ranking.
"Citrix and Microsoft have joined VMware in the Leaders Quadrant by increasing vision and execution respectively," Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman and colleagues write. "Although market share leader VMware continues to set the standard in products and the pace in terms of strategy, Microsoft has increased its market share (especially among midmarket customers new to virtualization), and Citrix is leveraging its desktop virtualization strengths and its free XenServer offering to expand its server virtualization share."
The Burton Group, an analyst firm acquired by Gartner last year, had previously called out limitations in Microsoft's Hyper-V, including its approach to disaster recovery.
Although VMware still touts more robust management software, Microsoft has steadily added features, including live migration and memory oversubscription, convincing customers such as Brocade that Hyper-V could be used alongside VMware deployments. Even before the rise of Hyper-V, the Burton Group declared that Citrix's XenServer had met essential virtualization and security requirements and could be considered "production-ready."
But in the 2010 Magic Quadrant, Gartner faulted Microsoft for "limited innovation and reactive strategy in a rapidly evolving market," saying "Microsoft is still learning about this market and its needs, and will need to continue to improve its product strategy and technology innovation to become a leader."
In the same 2010 report, Gartner said Citrix's "product functionality [is] second only to VMware."
Things have changed. In last week's report, Gartner says:
"At the hypervisor and basic administration level, Microsoft has closed most of its technology gaps with market leader VMware (which tends to have an advantage with higher-level management and automation tools). The most significant hypervisor difference continues to be Microsoft's reliance on a parent operating system on each virtualization host -- which carries the benefit of a proven driver architecture, but the burden of potentially more planned downtime for patching and maintenance."
Citrix, meanwhile, has used its desktop virtualization expertise "to grow its foothold in the server virtualization market as the third-place vendor in terms of market share," Gartner says. But Citrix has struggled to convert users of the free version of XenServer to the fee-based edition, and Citrix's tight virtualization partnership with Microsoft presents a confusing picture to customers and partners.
Even though Gartner says VMware "continues to set the standard in the x86 server virtualization infrastructure market," and is strong in the cloud infrastructure service provider market, any gain for Hyper-V is potentially a blow for VMware. Microsoft and VMware have publicly clashed each summer at the annual VMworld conference, and Gartner's endorsement gives Microsoft more fuel to add to the fire.