The pace of virtualisation adoption in Europe is accelerating sharply, according to IDC.

The analyst says that 35% of servers purchased in 2007 used some kind of virtualisation technology and 52% of those bought in 2008 are expected to do so. 54% of European IT departments not using virtualisation expect to do so in the next 18 months.

"Virtualisation use has exploded since our last survey of the European market," says Chris Ingle, consulting and research director at IDC's systems group. "Both large organisations and smaller businesses are using the technology for a wider range of applications and for business-critical projects. As use of virtualisation grows, the challenges around managing complexity, finding skills and software licensing become more apparent."

IDC's 2008 European Server Virtualisation Survey found that organisations are increasing their virtualisation of x86 systems for core business applications, although the majority of virtualisation is still for testing and development and for network server applications. Expertise and skills are the biggest barrier to virtualisation adoption.

Growth of virtualisation as a strategy remains strong, rising from 46% of the base to 54%. Virtualisation seems to be growing as a data centre strategy in itself rather than as part of other projects. This supports the view that virtualisation is increasingly seen as a standard for a wide range of workloads.

VMware is the market leader by far with 82% of the analyst's sample using its products. Microsoft is used by 13%. Despite high levels of Linux use, only 3% of the sample use Xen as their virtualisation platform. Various Unix, mainframe and midrange platforms account for the remaining 14%.

59% of implementations have fewer than four virtual machines or partitions per physical box. The largest growth area for virtualisation use over the past year, particularly in small and medium businesses, is improving disaster recovery, backup and availability.

Availability of skills and application vendor licensing are the factors causing most problems for virtualisation users, says IDC. 23% of virtualisation users report that their application vendors' licensing is still not meeting their needs and 33% of large businesses report that it limits use of virtualisation.

Despite seeing virtualisation as a vital tool for their business, the majority of organisations do not measure benefits and use virtual infrastructure in the same way they do physical infrastructure.

"Some companies have both a large set of applications that can be managed more effectively and, more importantly, a backlog of applications they need to deploy," says Nathaniel Martinez, IDC's programme director for European enterprise servers.

"Virtualisation enables these companies to rationalise their application portfolio and deploy applications more effectively. As the market matures, we expect companies to start to measure their virtualisation projects more closely and look for greater value from virtualisation across their infrastructure."

Ingle adds: "The range of approaches makes the right technology selection critical. Microsoft is making a strong push for market share later in 2008. VMware seems to be in the right place with its focus on business continuity and virtualisation management. Citrix and the Unix vendors are appealing to their core markets. HP, IBM, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, Dell, Sun, BMC, and others will look to take the lead in systems and management."