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IBM wallops Unix peers . . . again

Survey says Sun and HP struggle

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While customers divide their sales almost equally between IBM, Sun Microsystems and HP, they like doing business with Big Blue best of all, according to a recent study.

IBM once again ranked as the most favored Unix vendor from technology, sales, service and accuracy standpoints. Sun, however, redeemed itself by capturing a distant second in Gabriel Consulting Group's (GCG) fresh study, assigning HP to last place. The rankings shift shows that IBM continues to deliver on its promises, while Sun has impressed with a fresh slate of Unix technology. HP, meanwhile, remains hampered by its Itanium push.

GCG got its poll into 277 customers – most of them in North America and with between 10 and 50 Unix servers. As always, the analyst firm queried actual data center operators, as opposed to brassy CTO and CIO types.

The survey group had a healthy split, reflective of sales reality. For example, the standardized crowd divided evenly among the three vendors with each taking one-third of sales. The non-standardized set tended to buy systems from two (39 per cent) or all three (38 per cent) vendors.

GCG's methodology makes a score of 100 stand as pretty solid, while anything above that is grand and anything below the line is mediocre to poor.

So, IBM clobbered rivals by grabbing an overall technology score of 108 compared to Sun's 88 and HP's 63. Still, IBM suffered when compared to last year's scores. In 2005, IBM notched a 122 score, while Sun took second with a 82 and HP posted a 79.

"Although their scores are lower than last year, IBM still tops HP and Sun overall and in almost every individual category," noted GCG analyst Dan Olds. "Their focus on executing their technology road map and the attention they’ve paid to proving their business value in areas such as virtualization/consolidation, price/performance, and automated system and workload management has again made them king of the Unix market hill.

"To Sun’s credit, they’ve done a lot of things right in the last year – successfully introducing their new T1000/T2000 multi-core SPARC servers, re-capturing the Unix revenue crown for the first time in years, sustaining their lead in Unix server shipments, and (finally!) proving they can significantly increase server revenue."

In terms of system scale, real world performance, operating system features, OS quality partitioning, uptime, ease of use, real world system management, roadmaps, service quality and cost and sales channel, IBM beat out Sun and HP with ease.

That didn't leave Sun and HP a whole lot to win, although Sun did rank the highest with its systems management suite, commitment to Unix and drive to innovate. This proves that Sun either talks the best game or has the most to lose from vanishing Unix sales or both.

HP managed to grab the "keeps its promises" crown – which is either a curse or a blessing depending on how you view Itanic.

In many respects, the vendors moved closer together, which GCG sees as reflective of the overall Unix market.

"Unix systems today have reached a point where, regardless of manufacturer, they are big enough, fast enough, and available enough to satisfy the vast majority of customers. Because of this, both customers and vendors have moved away from using feeds & speeds as the dominant decision criteria. Instead, customers are beginning to evaluate how well a particular vendor (and their products) provides value to the overall business. Performance is still a component in this new model, as is availability; but other factors, such as manageability, efficiency, and utilization are becoming increasingly important."

The study results match the last year of Unix sales well. IBM has remained strong, while a resurgent Sun has started to gain share again. HP has enjoyed rising Itanium server sales, but the Itanic strength has not been enough to offset declining PA-RISC and Alpha sales.

GCG pitches its metrics as more forward looking than retrospective, meaning HP could be in for one hell of a year. That said, HP customers were punished in 2006 by a delayed dual-core Itanium and could end up much happier in 2007, especially as Sun falls behind with its Fujitsu deal and IBM prepares for a new chip rollout.

You might think it a stretch, but HP's spy scandal appears to have hurt Unix sales as well.

"It seems that some customers are painting with a broad brush and have penalized HP’s Unix unit for the sins of their board of directors," Olds wrote. "Fair? No, but the bad publicity has definitely had a negative impact on HP, at least in this survey."

The negative feelings toward HP contributed to it losing the overall second ranking to Sun this year, while Sun's UltraSPARC T1-based servers gave the vendor a boost.

"While their lead has eroded a bit in some categories, IBM still handily won the survey overall and also came out on top in most of the individual categories," Olds concluded. "IBM’s technical advances, adherence to their aggressive roadmap, and concentration on business value has propelled them from a weak third in the Unix market during the 90s to the top slot in the 2000s."

GCG was not commissioned by any of the vendors to do this study and does encourage all customers and business partners to purchase reprints of the report. Those interested in getting the full survey can contact GCG here. ®

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