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With all of the recent developments in virtualization, getting a big picture view of where the industry is headed isn't the easiest thing to do. Most of the editors at Windows IT Pro get a flood of new virtualization product announcements and pitches on a daily basis, all promoting the latest effort by vendors to capitalize on the success of virtualization in the enterprise.

So, in the interest of attempting to highlight some important trends that have emerged in the industry, I've put together a list of 5 companies that I bet we'll all be hearing more about in the coming year. Some vendors are on this list by virtue of being potential acquisitions by larger companies, while others have developed intriguing products that are helping push the boundaries of what virtualization is capable of.

I'm always interested in hearing reader feedback, so please comment on this article or drop me an email (at jjames\[at\]windowsitpro.com) if you have anything to say (including gripes and counterpoints) about this exercise in list-making.

1. Citrix (www.citrix.com)
What they make: XenSource
Why they are important: Although there are technically three primary server virtualization solution providers, Citrix increasingly sees the world in Microsoft + Citrix > VMware terms. Does this mean a merger is in the cards?

When Citrix acquired XenSource in August of 2007, some industry pundits were predicting that the addition of Citrix to the virtualization scene would encourage competition and truly establish a tripartite market, with Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix squaring off over the spoils of the booming virtualization space.

The reality is that Citrix has been more inclined to align itself with Microsoft, and has increasingly--both in public statements and in direct interviews--sought to frame its virtualization market strategy in terms of a combined Microsoft/Citrix "us versus them" stance against VMware. Microsoft has also been getting closer to Citrix, announcing in January 2008 that the company is working with its partner to develop software that "will allow customers to easily transfer virtual machines between Citrix XenServer and Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V" and unveiling plans to co-market a new assortment of client computing products. Is all of this a precursor to a marriage between the two companies, or at least an extended romance?

While a Citrix/Microsoft merger may make some sense, the tech industry rumor mill has been going into overdrive about the possibility that IBM (or even Cisco) could be a more attractive partner for Citrix. Virtualization.info summarizes some of what Cisco and IBM could each gain with a merger, but I'd argue that IBM is the more logical play. Big Blue would clearly gain the most from acquiring Citrix, a move that would give them a seat at the table in the server virtualization market and help reinforce some of their open-source virtualization efforts. IBM also has the financial resources and market presence to truly make XenSource a compelling third alternative to offerings from Microsoft and VMware, and would ensure a more competitive landscape in server virtualization. It's also a move I'm sure VMware would welcome, since IBM has clearly demonstrated an interest in being a Microsoft competitor rather than an acquiescent partner to Redmond's ambitions. IBM may be the most logical choice, but the crumbling tea leaves I'm reading point to Microsoft being the suitor that may get Citrix to the altar.

As a counterpoint to all of this giddy speculation and rumor-mongering, IDC industry analyst Michael Rose provides some grounded perspective. "I believe that an acquisition of Citrix by IBM is highly unlikely; these rumors aren't new and they seem to be based largely on conjecture," says Rose. "Certainly, IBM could benefit from the XenSource management bits in order to manage XenBased virtualized workloads, but it would be challenged with maintaining the strong relationship that Citrix has with HP in terms of both its new XenDesktop and more mature XenApp platforms."

Time will tell how this all plays out, but it's clear that Citrix (and the rest of the virtualization segment) will be in for an interesting ride in the coming year.

2. Pano Logic (www.panologic.com)
What they make: A desktop virtualization solution with arguably the ultimate (and coolest-looking) thin client
Why they are important: Pano Logic may not compare to Wyse and other thin-client vendors in terms of size or scope yet, but their efforts herald the coming of the virtualized desktop.

I posted a bit about Pano Logic's virtualized desktop initiatives a few months ago, and the company shows no signs of slowing down. (It also still has the slickest product design of any IT product I've seen so far this year, which you can see here.) The company recently announced Pano Virtual Desktop Solution (VDS) 2.0, a software update to their Pano Logic thin client that the company claims "can be deployed in new environments and network topologies, providing support for wide area network (WAN) deployments, dual monitor requirements, and offering certified support for wireless bridges and USB devices." Pano Logic also touted the ability of VDS 2.0 to integrate closely with VMware Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM), which should give IT administrators deploying Pano Logic's solution more flexibility in terms of installation and management.

IDC research analyst Michael Rose was quoted in the same news release, and he suggests that VDS 2.0 could simplify management of Pano devices. "We are seeing these virtual desktops increasingly being made accessible to users on the edge of the network, and as such the new WAN support available in Pano's VDS 2.0 can help provide a more realistic and flexible environment for many users leveraging Pano Logic's devices."

Pano Logic isn't alone in the desktop virtualization market, and the company has some well-funded and formidable competitors. That said, the elegant product design and straightforward simplicity of their approach may serve them well. Who says that product design in the enterprise IT market has to be boring?

3. Parallels (www.parallels.com)
What they make: A host of affordable virtualization products
Why they are important: Like Virtual Iron, Parallels brings the power of virtualization to the masses at a reasonable cost. Products such as Parallels Desktop (and VMware Fusion) are also helping drive Mac adoption in the enterprise.

With industry leviathans like VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix sucking up most of the oxygen in the room when it comes to market awareness of virtualization technology, it's easy for many to forget that there are dozens of small companies developing great products that fill the gaps in the virtualization market by providing compelling alternatives to the more heavily marketed (and expensive) offerings from industry leaders.

Such is the case with Parallels, a midsized vendor of a variety of virtualization products. Parallels covers everything from desktop virtualization (with Parallels Workstation) to server virtualization (Parallels Server), and also offers novel products such as Parallels Virtuozzo Containers, a container-based server virtualization product. For small and midsized customers, Parallels provides a compelling alternative to more expensive products from VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft. Other vendors such as Virtual Iron occupy a roughly analogous space in the market, providing lots of virtualization capability for a competitive price.

Another aspect of Parallels worth watching is the popularity of the Macintosh version of Parallels Desktop (and the upcoming Parallels Server for the Mac). We've heard from several IT vendors that they're seeing more and more Macintosh computers making inroads into the enterprise, thanks in part to virtualization products such as Parallels (and VMware Fusion) that let Mac hardware smoothly run Windows Vista and integrate more fully with Windows IT infrastructures. The Macintosh will likely remain a small segment of the enterprise market, but Apple's recent success in that market is undoubtedly driven (in part) by Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion.

4. VirtualLogix (www.virtuallogix.com)
What they make: Software for bringing virtualization to mobile devices
Why they are important: Virtualization and mobility are exploding in the IT market, and VirtualLogix is poised to surf both waves.

Judging by the number of news releases and vendor phone calls we receive on a daily basis, two of the most dominant trends in the IT market involve virtualization (in all of its permutations) and the burgeoning appetitie for mobile devices in the enterprise. Both technologies have significant ramifications for the future of the enterprise IT market, and both are seeing impressive growth rates.

That's why the executives at virtualization vendor VirtualLogix must feel like they've found the sweet spot for their company, as the tiny startup offers solutions that bridge both worlds. Founded in August 2002 by some former Sun Microsystems/Chorus Systems team members, VirtualLogix has developed VirtualLogix VLX, a product platform that allows multiple OS environments to run smoothly together on mobile hardware, a feature that has attracted the attention of mobile phone manufacturers such as Motorola (which recently made an equity investment in VirtualLogix). In a statement announcing the Motorola equity stake, VirtualLogix CEO Peter Richards underscored the competitive sweet spot that his company now holds.

"As virtualization moves out from the data center and into everyday front-end connected devices, our connected world will require the delivery of efficient, secure and customizable user experiences," said Richards. "To meet this demand, leading electronics manufacturers are looking to leverage the VirtualLogix technology to create products with improved security, manageability and customization."

It's clear that the company is well-positioned for future growth, and I'm sure that a few executives at Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware--not to mention all of the mobile handset manufacturers--are watching VirtualLogix with interest. In a world where promising technologies (and the companies that own them) are snapped up by larger companies that don't have the time or in-house talent to develop said technologies on their own, I have a feeling VirtualLogix's days as an independent entity may be numbered.

5. Solarflare Communications (www.solarflare.com)
What they make: Virtualization-savvy 10GbE silicon
Why they are important: Virtualization won't be fully realized until hardware impediments such as overloaded I/O can be addressed, an obstacle that Solarflare's SolarStorm technology is attempting to overcome.

As successful as virtualization has been in the enterprise, technology laggards, professional cynics, and tech bloggers like to point out the chinks in a fully-virtualized IT environment. From valid concerns about single points of failure to related virtual machine (VM) security and management needs, the discussion also tends to drift into complaints about performance overhead and I/O bottlenecks. Addressing the latter is the focus of Solarflare Communications, a silicon vendor that develops products that facilitate the adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) technology in the enterprise. Chief among Solarflare's products are their 10GbE server controllers and 10GBASE-T PHYs.

Solarflare has also developed SolarStorm, a set of I/O virtualization technologies (baked into silicon) that accelerate I/O performance when using virtual servers. Solarflare claims that it is the first 10GbE silicon provider to support all three of the major virtual OSs, including VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Citrix Xen. Solarflare intends to demonstrate their technology at Interop in late April, with a likely demo of Solarflare-based technology tailored for Citrix XenEnterprise.

"Enterprises and data centers are in need of cost-effective solutions that provide high-performance services," said Bruce Tolley, vice president of marketing at Solarflare. "With our partners we are demonstrating virtualization acceleration at line rate to support iSCSI storage and other bandwidth intensive applications such as video capture and playback. These product demonstrations show that our optimized 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology delivers true performance for real-world environments, all over 10GBASE-T."


Virtualization News
By Jeff James

VMware: Q1 Sales Increase by 69%
A sluggish economy and a slowdown in tech spending didn't stop VMware from posting Q1 financial results this week that showed an increase in revenue to $438 million, up 69 percent when compared with Q1 2007. VMware president and CEO Diane Green credited increasing market demand for VMware products for the increase. "Our strategy to continually deliver superb quality and market-expanding solutions well ahead of the competition is working and we're advantaging our lead with our well developed multi-tier partner distribution model," Greene said in a statement announcing the results. "We are seeing customers progress more rapidly through the virtualization adoption path; many are now moving right into a VMware-based architecture so that they can pool their resources, deliver capacity on demand, and also get an insurance policy for business continuity and disaster recovery."

Attune Systems Announces Maestro File Virtualization Solution
Attune Systems has announced the Maestro File Manager-Entry System (ES), a file virtualization solution that provides analysis and reporting of storage environments across mixed file systems. "We offer our customers the option to learn what they do not know about their existing environments, and we help them identify potential storage savings based on planning for tiering, consolidation and deduplication projects," said Jill Kyte, vice president of marketing and business development for Attune Systems. "Our entry solution based on our latest file virtualization technology allows organizations to take advantage of file virtualization in a gradual way through an out-of-band device." Pricing for Maestro File Manager-ES begins at $14,995.

Virtual Network Intelligence 3.5 Unveiled
Virtualization business intelligence vendor vmSight has announced Virtual Network Intelligence 3.5, the latest update to a product that allows customers to monitor applications and users in virtual environments. This latest release adds application performance management capabilities, features designed to minimize VM proliferation, improved VM diagnostic capabilities, and the ability to integrate with VMware VirtualCenter. "We believe that virtualization is revolutionizing the data center," said Jonathan Alexander, president and co-founder of vmSight. "It starts with cost savings, but ultimately it's about IT adding even more value to businesses through increased flexibility and improved service levels. At vmSight, we help IT leaders maximize the benefits of virtualization to realize that vision."


Tips & Tricks:
Exchange Server Virtualization: Microsoft's Support
By Paul Robichaux

Editor's Note: Running vital IT functions on virtualized servers is a hot topic for many IT pros. While some swear by the practice, others think that virtualization is still best-used for development, test, backup, and high-availability needs. Windows IT Pro contributing editor Paul Robichaux recently began discussing the issue in his Exchange and Outlook Pro UPDATE newsletter, an excerpt of which you'll find below.

I'm going to start my column this week with a shameful confession: The first Exchange Server book I wrote, Managing Microsoft Exchange Server (O'Reilly), wasn't written based on a real Exchange server. Instead, I wrote it in 1998 and 1999 using a virtualized Exchange 5.5 server running on my Mac PowerBook. Since that time, virtualization has been a valued part of my Exchange toolkit, and I'm not the only one for whom this is true. In the next couple of columns, I want to survey the current state of Exchange virtualization and talk about where things are headed now that Windows Server 2008 has shipped.

For the rest of Paul's commentary, read his post on Exchange Server Virtualization here.