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What is Unix's share of and role in modern data centers?

There's no denying that the Unix party is winding down, but just how quickly are guests leaving? What is Unix going to look like in five years?

The 40-year-old Unix OS has had brushes with death, but may have found its niche in the modern world.

Scale-up systems based on the Unix operating system and its accompanying RISC processors enjoyed a long and heady heyday, first as the undisputed king of enterprise and even high-end workstations, then as the original engine of the Internet and the Web.

Those were good times. So what is Unix's role today?

A healthy chunk of mission-critical enterprise apps still run on a Unix platform, but there's no denying that the party's coming to an end. A good chunk of Unix shops have already left, or are at least gathering their things and saying goodbye.

Still, there are plenty of hearty souls sticking around, for reasons peculiar to their organization and applications. Will they keep the party going?

The Unix server market

No one's arguing that the Unix OS is in decline. That fact is painfully clear to anyone who listens to market research. The worldwide Unix server market stood at $9.1 billion in 2012, down 48% from its perch of $17.6 billion in 2003, according to market research firm International Data Corp.

But where things go from here is less certain. While the Unix market fell precipitously during the 2009 recession, IDC projects that Unix customer revenue -- factory revenue plus "channel uplift" -- will drop in dribs and drabs, from $10.2b in 2012 to $8.7b by 2017.

"The Unix market contracts, but there will always be this core audience, kind of like the mainframe," said Jean Bozman, IDC research vice president for enterprise servers.

And while the market may not be what it once was, the Unix industry is still nothing to sneeze at.

"Yes, there's a change, but there's still a lot of money," said Richard Fichera, vice president at Forrester Research. "So what if the market declines 10%? It's still a $10 billion industry."

Further, the margins on pricey Unix systems are much higher than they are on commodity x86 systems, he pointed out, which should guarantee continued investment and new systems for years to come.

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