Everyone says virtualization saves energy. The question remains, can it save IT managers extra headaches?

Champions of virtualization software, as well as the vendors of servers and support services that make virtualization possible, are eager to prove that it can, and that means making their technologies as simple to use – and as interoperable – as possible.

That's the thrust of developments underway at the VMWorld 2009 conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, whether it was the dueling open standard, multi-vendor virtualization platforms coming from competitors VMWare and Citrix, or Hewlett Packard's moves to integrate management of both virtual and physical servers in one interface.

Virtualization industry leaders VMWare, Citrix, Microsoft and Oracle are in hot competition to help companies with the task of getting single servers to act as if they're many servers at once. That's the basic promise of virtualization, and it saves energy as well as capital expenses on new servers that don't need to be bought and plugged in.

But virtualization still has a pretty big market to tackle, with only about 12 percent of the world's servers virtualized at the end of 2008, according to a February report from research firm IDC. That's still going to be a $1.3 billion market for virtualization software and a $1.1 billion market for virtualization infrastructure this year, IDC predicted.

VMWare is the market leader right now. But it and its competitors are seeking to capture more market share through products that can interoperate with other vendors' technologies.

Forbes reported last week that Citrix planned to launch a product that could be an open-source competitor to VMWare's vCloud product, only with the additional ability to run on all vendors' virtual machines, not just VMWare's.

Not to be outdone, VMWare has laid plans to buy SpringSource, a company that VMWare CEO Paul Maritz called a leading provider of open-source software development tools.

Also on Tuesday, Maritz said that VMWare would be making a big push into cloud computing with partners such as Terramark and DataCore. It has also launched a new set of services designed to make virtualization easier to accomplish.

Cloud computing – distributing computing power for best efficiency – is seen as the next way to save money and energy, though some dispute the efficiency gains it promises (see Energy Star for Servers Arrives – And It's a Bit Short).

As for HP, it's new "Insight Control" system announced Tuesday is aimed at addressing one of the complications that virtualization brings – the confusion that can apply to tracking servers as assets when one server has been made into several virtual servers.

That will include more controls to manage power use in servers – something that's at the heart of cost concerns for data center managers.

Huntsville, Ala.-based Avocent makes hardware and software to track and manage that so-called physical server environment, as well as such technology embedded in servers from partners like Dell and IBM, CEO Mike Borman said.

Adding real-time power measurement to its three-dimensional display and controls of physical servers is the next big step for Avocent to help customers keep up with the virtualization they've been undertaking, he said.

Such real-time power management has a lot of uses, he said, including its help in reducing one of the biggest data center energy wasters – so-called "ghost" servers that stopped doing anything useful a long time ago, but are still plugged in.

Utilities are eager to encourage greener IT, with programs that can give millions of dollars for virtualization and other improvements to data center power efficiency (see PG&E Wants to Give Away More Money, See Fewer E-Mail Attachments).

One way to do that could be by reducing the storage of data, through processes like de-duplication, or making sure you're not saving more copies than you need.

That's something that Melville, N.Y.-based FalconStor does, and it can help reduce a typical client's storage needs by 20 times or so, with the commensurate energy savings, said Fadi Albatal, marketing director.

And then there are new ways to mobilize virtualization, so to speak, such as thin client maker Wyse's new mobile phone application to access computer and virtual desktops (see Wyse: Continent-Spanning Virtualization Saves Data Center Costs).