OEMs and chip makers are aggressively pushing into the high-end Unix space, a profitable but shrinking area of the server market. Analysts say IBM with its new Power7 systems has the inside track to expand its market share, though Hewlett-Packard and Intel are coming out with systems based on new Itanium chips. Oracle, with Sun's hardware business in hand, also is looking to make a play in a market affected by x86 chips from Intel and AMD.
Server OEMs and chip makers are turning a spotlight on the high end of the
systems market, ramping up the rhetoric for their competition in the highly
profitable but shrinking Unix space.
IBM made its move Dec. 8,
with the rollout of its first powerful Power7
which promise chip- and system-level features that greatly improve
performance, energy efficiency and virtualization capability over current
servers running on Power6. At about the same time, Intel and Hewlett-Packard
introduced the long-awaited 9300
series next-generation Itanium
processor, once code-named Tukwila, with a
road map showing plans for several more generations.
In addition, at the ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits
Conference), the newly combined Oracle/Sun Microsystems showed off its SPARC
T3, also known as "Rainbow Falls."
The 16-core chip-with eight threads per core-doubles the core count of the
previous SPARC T2, and officials say it is an indication of Oracle's dedication
to Sun's SPARC and Solaris hardware business.
All are vying for business in a Unix space that, while in still
in demand, is seeing its share of the overall global server market shrink.
According to research company IDC,
the Unix market accounted for 26.9 percent of server spending worldwide in the
third quarter of 2009-or about $2.8 billion. However, in the first quarter that
market percentage was about 33 percent. So, while not in free fall, the Unix
market is sinking.
"There's still a lot of money in big Unix systems, and
even in smaller Unix systems," Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata,
said in an interview. "Microsoft will argue that you can do almost
anything in Windows that you want to do. But a lot of IT administrators would
probably argue that."
The vendors agree. Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide
marketing and strategy for IBM's Power
systems platform, called the $14 billion Unix market "robust," adding
that businesses are looking for ways to get greater scalability, reliability
and efficiency from these systems while reducing their capital and operational
costs. Martin Fink, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Business
Critical Systems unit, similarly said businesses are looking for more
performance, scalability and energy efficiency from these larger systems as
they look to consolidate workloads.
One trend that has come out of the recent
announcements-including Oracle's 5-hour marathon the day it closed the $7.4
billion acquisition of Sun-is that OEMs are no longer focusing on the speeds
and feeds of their new processors. Instead, the chips become a key part of a larger
"There is a fundamental shift away from the processor only
and [toward] more how they fit within the system ecosystem," Charles King,
an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in an interview. "Power7 generates
a lot of innovation, but it's only a part of the [overall server]
With its Power7 systems, IBM
officials spoke not only about the performance increases in the chip, but also
about overall enhancements to the systems-from virtualization capabilities to
energy efficiency to software upgrades that support the new servers-and how the
new systems support IBM's larger Smarter
Oracle officials talked about the Sun SPARC/Solaris servers as
a foundation for high-end integrated hardware and software offerings, while
both HP's Fink and Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel
Architecture Group and general manager of its Data Center Group, touted
the capabilities of the new Itanium chip when combined with HP systems.
All these feature enhancements-reliability, scalability,
performance, energy efficiency and virtualization-are key to Unix customers
looking for homes for their mission-critical business applications.