Sun ravaged, IBM lauded in Unix server study

Bad moon on the rise

SGI logo hardware close-up

A new study on the major players in the Unix server market has declared IBM the clear customer favorite and brought to light some serious issues with Sun Microsystems' product line. Most alarmingly for Sun, the company appears to have lost its cachet as the dominant Unix player and done so while alienating customers. Sun finished last in almost every one of the Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) survey's categories, spanning technology performance, customer satisfaction and software tools.

The survey polled 197 corporate Unix customers with particular attention paid to the opinions of administrators as opposed to the CIOs in their ivory towers. "We have found that people on the data center floor have a much better idea of what works well (and not so well) in their infrastructure and are generally not shy about expressing their views – both positive and negative," GCG said. Close to 75 per cent of the respondents hailed from North America, and the median participant managed between 25 and 50 Unix boxes.

GCG does a nice job of giving us an idea of who uses what. Only about 20 per cent of customers have standardized on a single Unix vendor. Around 46 per cent of customers tap two vendors and 34 per cent have gear from all three of the big boys. If you have standardized on one vendor, then you're probably running on Sun systems, although this hasn't helped the vendor too much of late.

"Sun was the major beneficiary of the UNIX buying spree in the 1990s, building an installed base that is estimated by some to top that of HP and IBM combined," GCG said. "While Sun has the advantage of a massive installed base, it hasn’t paid off in terms of sales for the last several years. IBM and HP have caught up to and surpassed, albeit by a small margin, Sun in terms of overall UNIX system sales."

Starting with the overall results, IBM clobbered the competition. According to GCG's methodology, IBM secured a VPI (Vendor Preference Index) of 105. HP followed at 85, and Sun placed last at 80. As GCG notes, IBM has enjoyed a solid run since the introduction of Power 4 and then Power 5, gaining significant market share. Meanwhile, HP and Sun have struggled to keep pace with their RISC chips, and HP customers have also had to face the Itanium question.

Things don't improve for Sun as GCG moves to individual categories. Sun finished third - or in this case last - in Raw Performance, Processor Performance, Observed Performance, Operating System Features, Operating System Quality, System Management Suite, Partitioning/Virtualization Suite, RAS Features, Overall Technology and Technology Futures. That's quite a list.

In nearly every case, IBM finished first in these categories with HP just ahead of Sun. HP did manage to edge out IBM on the System Management Suite and Partitioning/Virtualization Features categories.

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