The Need for a Server Recount

Michael Vizard

So once again the latest server market share numbers are out from companies such as International Data Corp., and once again the numbers of Unix servers are declining. That naturally leads to a lot of speculation about the impending death of Unix.

But in the age of virtualization, you can't help but wonder if counting application server boxes is really a relevant exercise anymore. After all, we can now run multiple application workloads on servers that are significantly more powerful than they use to be. The simple fact of the matter is that one new server today can do the work of 20 old servers.

What seems to really matter is the number of workloads that are running on those servers. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, reports that it sold almost 400 Superdome 2 servers in the fourth quarter, while IBM remains top dog in an overall Unix server category that saw revenue decline. Unit numbers and revenues for the entire category continue to decline, but those numbers don't necessarily reflect the health of the Unix market.

Similarly, while overall server sales are up, the entire server category might be even healthier than it appears when you consider higher utilization rates thanks to the rise of virtualization.

Lorraine Bartlett, HP vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy for business critical systems, says that HP is seeing fairly strong demand for Unix servers as more IT organizations move to consolidate workloads. She also expects to see Unix server sales benefit from the rise of private cloud computing deployments, which should consolidate application workloads on larger end servers even further. Many of those customers will be looking for a new robust Unix server to not only replace existing servers, but also to more effectively run hundreds of virtual machines that need to share memory and storage.

There's no doubt that Windows and Linux servers are outpacing Unix server sales. But counting server bodies may not be as relevant an exercise as it used to be in an age where the number of application workloads running on each and every new server is dramatically higher.

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