Unix server sales continue downward spiral, Gartner says

Sales of high-end RISC and Itanium servers fell in the fourth quarter of 2009, while x86 server revenue grew

Server shipments increased in the fourth quarter of 2009, but revenue fell as x86 servers continued to bite into the declining market for Unix servers with RISC and Itanium chips, Gartner said in a study released on Wednesday.

Worldwide server shipments totaled 2.2 million during last year's fourth quarter, growing 4.5 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. Worldwide server sales totaled US$12.6 billion during the fourth quarter last year, a 3.2 percent drop from server sales in the same quarter of 2008. Worldwide sales of x86 servers rose 14.3 percent to $7.6 billion during the 2009 fourth quarter, while RISC and Itanium server sales declined by 20 percent to about $3 billion.

"The fourth quarter of 2008 was quite weak, so the fourth quarter of 2009 did not have to produce huge x86 server numbers to result in an increase," said Jeffrey Hewitt, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. "At the same time, other segments like RISC/Itanium Unix and mainframes remained constrained and that exerted downward pressure on overall vendor revenue results."

IBM and Intel in early February released new chips for highly scalable servers that require high uptime. At the time of the Power7 chip launch, the senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology group, Rod Adkins, said the Unix market is a sizeable and healthy market to the tune of $14 billion or $15 billion annually. Adkins also said IBM will try to provide more competitive pricing options on its Power7 servers to take on the "traditional" server market.

Industry analysts went on to say that the new chips will have little effect on reviving the declining sales of scalable servers running on the Unix OS, analysts said. The x86 servers are cheaper, are getting more powerful and have a more readily available software stack.

The x86 server market was trending toward a larger use of blades, Hewitt said. Blade server shipments grew by 11.1 percent during the quarter, while revenue grew by 22.1 percent.

IBM was the top server vendor during the fourth quarter, with sales of $4.1 billion, a drop of 5.9 percent year over year and a 32.7 percent market share. In a close second was Hewlett-Packard, with server sales of $3.95 billion, recording a small growth of 0.4 percent and 31.3 percent market share. Dell's server revenue increased by 8.3 percent to $1.5 billion, putting it in third place. Sun Microsystems, which has since been acquired by Oracle, saw a massive 23.5 percent drop in server sales.

IBM was also first in Unix servers with a 40.5 percent market share during the fourth quarter of 2009. The company registered sales of $1.2 billion, a year-over-year drop of 11.1 percent. Hewlett-Packard was second, with sales of $876 million, a year-over-year drop of 19.9 percent. Sun shipped the largest number of Unix servers during the fourth quarter, but was third in revenue with sales of $753.8 million, a year-over-year drop of 29.1 percent. Fujitsu was fourth, recording the largest drop of 55.4 percent.

Hewlett-Packard topped the x86 server market with sales of $2.8 billion, a year-over-year growth rate of 15.7 percent, and a market share of 38 percent. In a distant second was Dell, recording an 8.3 percent year-over-year sales growth to reach $1.5 billion, for 20 percent market share. IBM was in third place, with its server sales growing 37 percent to reach $1.4 billion. Sun and Fujitsu were in fourth and fifth places, respectively.

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