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Spendthrift server buyers cool to Unix, says IDC

Sales of x86 servers are swift, but not so for Unix systems, which dropped like a stone this quarter.

Enterprise server buyers are on a spending spree, throwing money at new x86 systems and even mainframes as part of large-scale infrastructure refreshes and build-outs. But they appear to be snubbing Unix systems.

According to IDC’s newly released Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker, worldwide server spending increased 13.2% year over year to $11.8 billion in the third quarter of 2010, the third consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth, and the fastest growth rate since 2000.

Leading the charge were volume systems and midrange servers, which experienced growth of 22.8% and 19.8%, respectively. But sales of high-end enterprise systems were “soft,” declining by 10.4% year over year, IDC reported.

Specifically, revenue for Unix systems declined 9.7% year over year, and its overall share of worldwide server spending fell 5.5 points.

IBM swoons, Oracle/Sun holds steady
Unlike in the x86 market, IDC declined to break out Unix market share numbers by vendor, but did call out IBM, the market leader in Unix systems. While “System z demand improved nicely following the recent zEnterprise product refresh cycle,” IBM “continued to experience weakness in its Power Systems business,” IDC said.

Oracle, with its Sun server business, despite previous reports to the contrary, managed to maintain the No. 4 position in the worldwide server market, with 0.9% year-over-year growth, IDC said.

That comes as no real surprise to one mid-Atlantic systems integrator, who said Sun shops are nothing if not loyal, its new owner notwithstanding.

“When you sell against Dell, you sell against price. When you sell against HP, you sell against technical stuff -- the feeds and speeds. When you're up against IBM, you're not selling against boxes but against solutions or business outcomes that happen to include hardware. But, when you get to the Sun guys, it's about religion. You can't get to those guys. One guy told me last year that he would get off his Sun box when he dies."

IDC did not comment on HP’s Unix systems business.

Rumors of Unix’s death greatly exaggerated
Historically, the third quarter is not known for rousing Unix system sales, said Jean Bozman, IDC research vice president for enterprise platforms. “The fourth quarter will be a stronger indicator of things to come,” she said.  By then, all the major Unix vendors will have refreshed their offerings. Oracle is holding a webcast on Thursday to discuss its Sun Sparc Solaris roadmap.

Also of interest was the fact that while sales for both low-end and high-end Unix systems decreased, volume and revenue for midrange systems (those costing from $25,000 to $250,000) actually grew, Bozman said.

“If you read the press reports, you’d think that everybody was throwing [their Unix systems] out,” she said, but that is not the case. Instead, Bozman theorized that organizations replacing older high-end systems are finding that today’s midrange systems can adequately handle that load. “The new gear is technologically much more capable than it was five or six years ago, and obviously, the price point is very attractive,” she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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