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Sun ravaged, IBM lauded in Unix server study

Bad moon on the rise

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"These results are important as they signal that Sun’s immense installed base may be vulnerable to predations from their better-funded competitors," GCG said. "As the smallest of the major UNIX players, Sun doesn’t have room to make mistakes or take any business for granted. The results of this survey indicate that Sun may be doing exactly that by not paying adequate attention to their installed base nor making them feel comfortable with Sun’s technology and future directions."

Without question, there appears to be a disconnect between what Sun is telling the public and how its technology is received by the customer. No vendor spends more time hawking its flavor of Unix these days than Sun. It has pushed and pushed and pushed Solaris 10 in front of the press and customers, billing the OS as years ahead of the competition. Most of the Sun users surveyed were likely on Solaris 9, but even that OS was said to be fantastic. So why are customers knocking this crown jewel?

The lack of enthusiasm for Sun's processor performance is more understandable. Sun suffered with UltraSPARC III delays, and the chip ultimately did not stack up that well against rival chips, particularly IBM's revamped Power line. HP should receive compliments for keeping its customer base happy during a difficult Itanic transition. The GCG survey shows that HP users are some of the most loyal folks around and appear tolerant of the server chip shifting and cut backs in Unix investment.

It's hard to grasp the intangibles at hand in this survey. The broad dissatisfaction with Sun gear would appear to indicate a worrying state of affairs for the vendor. As it's trying to make a recovery, Sun is struggling to maintain its image as the Unix king, while IBM is thriving. This is bad news for Sun, as it's most dependent of the three vendors on Unix revenue for the overall health of its business.

Looking ahead, Sun does have some promising technology. Solaris 10 and UltraSPARC IV are much better than their predecessors, and customers are gradually making their way to these new products. In addition, Sun is innovating on the low-end with the UltraSPARC T1 chip, while the competition has stuck with standard technology.

The GCG study notes that an astonishing 50 per cent of customers surveyed think HP will exit the Unix market in the coming years. In addition, Sun ranked first as the vendor most likely to dominate the Unix market in 5 years with HP finishing last.

"Currently, the HP installed base seems to remain, for the most part, loyal to the brand despite some of the challenges they have faced with the slow migration to Itanium and HP management changes," GCG said. "Still, HP has plenty to be concerned about, namely customer perceptions of HP’s overall technology vs. IBM, system scalability, and their commitment to UNIX."

This would seem to confirm that Sun's strategy of going after HP's user base during the Itanium transition is a good idea. Although, one could argue that Sun needs to place more emphasis on catching up to IBM and fast, as well.

You can find more information on the survey here. ®

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