Gartner has released its Magic Quadrant report on x86 server virtualization infrastructure for 2015. VMware and Microsoft retained their spots in the top right quadrant, which Gartner reserves for the leaders. Vendors that made it into the niche players quadrant are Citrix, Huawei, Odin, Oracle, and Red Hat.

VMware leads the pack but faces challenges

VMware is still the undisputed leader in the x86 virtualization segment, but it is clear the company is under pressure due to the increased adoption of cloud infrastructure services, market saturation, and competitive pressure from Microsoft. Gartner states that it is witnessing increased client inquiries about comparing vSphere and Hyper-V.

While some large enterprises are moving away from VMware to Microsoft, a few are switching from Hyper-V to vSphere. The company is also facing a competitive threat from Oracle, as customers prefer to run mission-critical database workloads on a homogenous, certified virtualization platform. The rise in the adoption of OpenStack-based private clouds and containers are impacting vSphere’s adoption in the enterprise. Red Hat is moving towards becoming a preferred platform for running virtualized Linux workloads.

Gartner also highlighted the trend of cloud-native workloads moving to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, which is an area of concern for VMware. vCloud Air, VMware’s hybrid cloud platform, has yet to make a dent in the market.

Microsoft is augmenting Hyper-V with Azure capabilities

The report comes at a time when Microsoft is readying the next version of Windows Server, which includes a newer version of Hyper-V. Compared to last year, Microsoft’s Hyper-V has moved up by a few notches in the top right quadrant, which indicates that the company is making progress with its virtualization strategy. Hyper-V’s tight integration with the OS and management tools makes it easy for customers to deploy and manage large workloads. Since the hypervisor is bundled with Windows Server, the cost is almost zero.

Gartner said, “Microsoft’s efforts in enabling Azure-like capability have been attracting enterprises interested in leveraging Azure and managing both on-premises Hyper-V and Azure services. There is a growing interest in using Hyper-V for Microsoft-based development teams, especially due to its Azure affinity.”

Microsoft’s game plan of building a private cloud platform that’s highly compatible with the Azure public cloud is paying off; the recently announced Azure Stack is a step in that direction. With the battleground slowly shifting from plain vanilla virtualization to the private cloud, Microsoft is solidifying its hybrid cloud strategy by reducing the gap between its public and private cloud platforms.

Once branded as a Windows-only hypervisor, Microsoft has invested in making Hyper-V compatible with Linux; this is helping the company acquire new customers with heterogeneous environments. “Hyper-V will likely be more successful in development teams interested in Azure, but requiring on-premises deployments. As Microsoft further improves its support for Azure affinity, and adds support for Windows containers in a future release, its success with development teams will continue to grow,” says Gartner.

Microsoft has some work to do with its tools when compared to VMware; Gartner found that its tools are not easy to use. Similar to VMware, open source technologies are eating into Microsoft’s virtualization revenue.

RHEV as the foundation for Red Hat’s cloud

Red Hat is eyeing the third slot in the Magic Quadrant, after VMware and Microsoft. According to Gartner, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV), a KVM-based hypervisor, has a 5% adoption rate in the market. Its integrated stack of RHEV, CloudForms, OpenStack, and OpenShift will help penetrate the enterprise market.

Citrix feels the heat from vSphere and Hyper-V

When compared to its position in the 2014 Magic Quadrant, Citrix hasn’t made much progress with its XenServer, XenDesktop, and XenApp portfolio. Given the adoption of Xen hypervisor in the public cloud service provider market, including Amazon Web Services, Citrix is focusing on winning this category. Though XenDesktop and XenApp are enjoying wide usage in the desktop virtualization segment, the backend hypervisor is either vSphere or Hyper-V.

The company is also pushing its CloudStack based CloudPlatform into the enterprise market. The competition from OpenStack and commercial cloud platforms based on vSphere and Hyper-V makes it an uphill battle for Citrix.

Oracle, Huawei, and Odin are finding their niches

Oracle VM, which is based on the open source hypervisor Xen, is preferred by customers who consider Oracle certification, license, and support. Gartner says that the third-party ecosystem for Oracle virtualization is smaller than that of the market leaders, which impacts its adoption.

FusionSphere, Huawei’s virtualization platform, is making inroads in emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

In March 2015, Parallels, Inc., a cross-platform hosting automation company, spun off its service provider business into Odin. Given its broad expertise of containers, the company hopes to acquire new service provider customers.

What this means to enterprise IT

With Gartner stating that 75% of x86 workloads are already virtualized, most of the organizations are considering the next logical step: deploying a hybrid cloud. VMware vCloud Air and Microsoft Azure Stack are viable options for customers to implement the hybrid strategy.

Enterprise IT is also evaluating the rapidly evolving container technologies. With the recent announcements of the Open Container Initiative and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, there is an emphasis on migrating a certain class of applications to containers. Traditional virtualization vendors including Microsoft, VMware, and Red Hat are heavily investing in containerized technologies. Indicators of this trend are: Microsoft’s investment in Hyper-V containers andNano Server; VMware’s decision to build Photon, a specialized OS for containers; and Red Hat’s launch of Atomic Host.

Customers should carefully analyze their portfolio of applications to identify workloads that are best suited for traditional virtualization, containerization, and cloud. The future of the data center is the hybrid cloud followed by containers.