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Virtualization services market $11.7 billion by 2011

VMware and its competitors are helping to drive demand in market expected to more than double its current level in four years, according to an IDC report.

It may be virtualization, but we're talking real bucks.

Virtualization services are expected to turn into an $11.7 billion market by 2011, more than double its current level, according to a study released Wednesday by IDC.

Helping propel this market, which last year generated $5.5 billion, is a transition from using virtualization software solely in high-end and mainframe computers to making it available for lower-cost systems running x86 and x64 servers.

Virtualization software allows users to take a single server and load it up with multiple operating systems. And that, in turn, lets users string together low-cost servers that can more quickly and easily take over an operating system's functions if one of the servers fails or is overtaxed.

While virtualization services largely revolve around supporting customers' initial software implementations, education and training, IT consulting and systems integration are expected to garner faster growth in virtualization services over the coming years, IDC predicts.

An increasing number of virtualization software makers are entering the market, posing a greater competitive threat to market leader VMware, according to a Forrester Research report released Monday. Microsoft, XenSource and others are developing "viable alternatives," Forrester notes.

But VMware, a subsidiary of storage company EMC, announced plans earlier this month to go public, which will help it fund development of more competitive products. And Forrester notes that it still expects VMware to continue its lead in server virtualization for years, because its competitors have been slow to enter the market.

Microsoft and XenSource aren't expected to be serious VMware challengers until 2010, according to Forrester. And by then, the virtualization services market may be poised for another substantial leap.