IBM Dominates a Crowded Market

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2010-02-12 Print this article Print


IBM's Power and Sun's SPARC processors are traditional RISC architectures. However, while Itanium is based on Intel's EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture, it plays heavily in the Unix space. Eighty-five percent of Itanium workloads are HP-UX, according to Skaugen and Fink.

In this race for Unix business, analysts judge IBM to have the upper hand. In a report Feb. 10, King noted that IBM trailed both HP and Sun in the Unix space a decade ago. Now it owns 40 percent of that space and stands to gain more, given what the company has shown with Power7 and the weaknesses in its rivals' positions, according to the analysts.

Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, in a report Feb. 10 said proponents of Power7 or of Itanium 9300 can point to numbers-of cores, threads and transistors-that support their sides. Those are important, he said. However, what's most in question is the "sheer amount of work of which a particular core is capable and how many total processors a big server can support," Kay said. "And this arena is IBM's home turf. It's these large chips that power the company's mainframes, one of its key differentiators."

IBM's Handy said it will be difficult for competitors to come close to offering anything close to the Power7 systems.

"We don't see Sun or HP really even catching up to Power6," Handy said.

Sun has been losing SPARC customers for years, and that accelerated in 2009 after Oracle announced its intent to buy the company, analysts said. As for Intel, it will continue to struggle with the fact that HP is the only major customer for Itanium, while continuing to ramp up the capabilities of its Xeon processors, including the upcoming eight-core "Nehalem EX" chip.

However, neither Illuminata's Haff nor Endpoint's Kay see Itanium disappearing any time soon.

"It may not be burning down the house, but Itanium still makes money for both Intel and HP," Kay wrote.

Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, isn't so sure. In a report Feb. 10, Clabby said he sees the server market consolidating around three platforms: Xeon, Power and IBM System z mainframes. Itanium is being hurt not only by Power, but also by Xeon.

"Intel's enhancements to Xeon processors now put that chip in competition with its own Itanium technologies," Clabby said. "We believe this is marginalizing Itanium, leading buyers to see the light and start moving off of the platform."

Also coming into the picture soon will be Advanced Micro Devices' 12-core "Magny-Cours" Opteron chip, which Kay said offers high-end x86 systems users an alternative to both Intel and IBM.

"AMD, which has all but given up competing on total throughput and solutions, like IBM, or even performance per dollar, like Intel, has fallen back on a narrow but defensible claim of best performance per dollar per watt," Kay wrote. "While Intel goes after the pure performance end of the x86 spectrum, AMD delivers reasonable performance, but not at the expense of both acquisition and operating cost. Some IT managers will appreciate that."


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