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IDC: Everything but Unix on the rise

Windows, Linux, and mainframes skyrocket

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It is not an easy time to be a Unix server vendor, but at least it has stopped getting harder.

According to the latest statistics from the box counters at IDC, worldwide sales of Unix servers was flat as a pancake, growing four-tenths of a percent to hit $3.8bn in revenues. That drops Unix from about half of revenues a decade ago to about a quarter of the money pie here in the 2010s. Yes, a lot of servers ship with no operating system, and IDC does guesstimates to figure out what OSes are the primary ones on the boxes. So there is a bit of witchcraft in the numbers. But for Unix and mainframe machines, you kind of know what buyers are plunking on the boxes.

By contrast, IDC figures that sales of mainframes shot up by 69.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, to hit $1.7bn. That was the highest growth spike that IDC has ever recorded for a mainframes. Servers with Linux as their primary operating system saw a 29.3 per cent jump in revenues, hitting $2.5bn and representing more than 450,000 units shipped. Windows was the primary operating system on 1.5 million boxes, according to IDC, and these machines generated $6.3bn in revenues, up 16.8 percent compared to the year ago quarter. That shipment level for Windows boxes is the highest in the history of the platform, too.

(Note: IDC's server figures include the processors, chassis, memory, base disk, and I/O features as well as a core operating system, sold directly by vendors or indirectly through the channel, but with the dollars reckoned at the factory level. So this means you see the machines vendors sold into the channel during Q4, not necessarily the machines that the channel resellers sold to customers in that same period. Sometimes, customers are getting stuff passed through quickly, and sometimes they are buying older inventory.)

When you add it all up, the overall server market had revenue growth of 15.3 per cent, hitting $14.96bn, in the fourth quarter. Shipments rose by 6.1 per cent, to a total of 2.06 million boxes. For the full year, IDC says server revenues worldwide were up 11.4 per cent, to $48.1bn.

For some bizarre reason, Hewlett-Packard declared in its press release covering the IDC numbers that it was the leader in terms of worldwide server revenue and shipments for the year, but if you look at the data, IBM beat HP resoundingly in revenues in the four quarter, $5.59bn versus $4.47bn, and for the full year IBM's $15.3bn was actually $32m bigger than HP's $15.3bn. (The difference is rounded out at three significant digits, but server makers fight over those scraps of millions.) IBM grew server sales by 21.9 per cent in Q4, while HP grew at only 13.2 per cent and a bit slower than the market at large. For the year, IBM had only 8.5 per cent growth, however, while HP did 18.9 per cent.

Dell posted $1.89bn in server revenues in Q4, up 26.8 per cent, and crested just above $7bn for all of 2010, with an impressive 34.2 per cent spike. IDC still calls it Sun in its tables, but it is really Oracle, and Q4 was not a particularly good one for the software giant and server upstart. Oracle's server sales were off 14.4 per cent in Q4, to $883m, and for the full year sales were $3.28bn, down 14 per cent.

By the second quarter of 2011, the compares should get easier for Oracle but the real question is when the company will see server revenues actually go up. To its credit, Oracle seems to be turning a profit on the Sun business, something Sun itself had not been able to do reliably for the better part of a decade.

Fujitsu pushed $541m in iron in Q4, down 9.4 per cent, and had sales of $2.19bn for all of last year, flat compared to 2009. Other vendors made up $1.59bn in revenues in the fourth quarter of 2010, up 20.1 per cent and helped by improving sales at Silicon Graphics, Cray, Super Micro and a slew of whitebox vendors. For the full 2010 year, other server makers didn't do as well, only growing sales by a half-point to just under $5bn and about a tenth of the overall market.

The x64 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices drove the bulk of server sales in the final quarter of 2010, just as they have been doing for the better part of a decade. Vendors shipped 2 million boxes using Xeon or Opteron processors, an increase of 6.7 per cent year-on-year. Revenues for Xeon and Opteron boxes rose by 21.4 per cent in the quarter, hitting $9bn, helped by fatter two-socket boxes and a smattering of absolutely obese four-socket and eight-socket machines. For the year, x64-based server sales were up 28.7 per cent, to $30.6bn, with units up 16.6 per cent, hitting 7.4 million machines.

Jed Scaramella, research manager of IDC's enterprise platforms and data center trends group, told El Reg that Opteron-based machines accounted for about 7 per cent of shipments in Q4, down a smidgen year-on-year but up a bit sequentially. Intel, of course, had the other 93 per cent.

So what is 2011 going to look like? IDC is cautiously optimistic, as you might expect. "I think that the server refresh has worked through most of the pent-up demand left over from the economic downturn," says Scaramella. "But the market is still going to grow. I think we'll see another good quarter for non-x86 systems, but after a spike, they usually fall off to a long tail." ®

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