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Unix server market hots up

The world may be on the brink of war, but on the Unix server front, it's a battle of different sorts. Server vendors strive to capture more market share by launching new hi-tech servers. The emphasis is on single boxes, packed with processors and mainframe attributes. by Brian Pereira

When giants go to battle, the rest of us run for cover and watch from afar. Well, something similar is happening in the Unix midrange server space worldwide, and the action has shifted to Indian shores. With Compaq and HP waiting for their merger to be completed, the clash is now mainly between IBM and Sun both of which are aggressively pursuing the Unix market. Incidentally, both Sun and IBM are eyeing each other's customer base. They both offer tools that help customers migrate between platforms Solaris to AIX and vice-versa. But amidst the duelling ad campaigns and marketing gibe, one thing's for certain the Unix market is picking up once again.

"We believe Unix will remain the platform of choice for mission critical enterprise scale applications," said Rajnish Arora, Research Manager-Servers & Workstations, IDC Asia Pacific. "We don't see a major shift away from Unix at least in the next four to five years."

According to IDC, the Unix server market in 2000 accounted for $29 billion of the $60 billion server market.

Besides the Unix stronghold there are other reasons why server vendors are now focusing on the mid-range and high-end markets both being the fastest growing server segments.

The trend in enterprises is to move from a roomful of single servers to a single powerful machine (usually a midrange or mainframe machine.)

Joel Tendler, Program Director-Technology Assessment, Enterprise Systems Group, IBM, says a single machine is easier to manage and makes for lower Total Cost of Ownership. "It becomes a lot easier now because I am able to take multiple boxes and manage them in one place. That adds value to the customer not just in terms of flexibility but also in terms of TCO. But it's not just the box it's the management of the box, the reliability of the box."

Server vendors are also putting mainframe attributes in their midrange systems. This includes partitioning (a feature that logically or physically segregates CPUs, memory and other internal components into separate subsystems), high-speed switches (cross-bar interconnects) between CPUs and memory, manageability features, redundancy of critical components, etc.

IBM for example, recently launched its pSeries 690 server (earlier code-named Regatta). This midrange Unix server has features borrowed from its zSeries mainframe class servers such as self-healing architecture, virtualization, high-speed switches, and Ultra-dense building blocks (see 'Regatta puts IBM back in the race').

Even vendors like Sun, who once thrived by selling server boxes to the Internet companies are now looking at a single box that competes with mainframe systems. Sun launched its Sun Fire 15K Solaris server on September 25. Sun Fire (code-named Starcat) is a midrange Unix (Solaris) server that can scale to 106 processors in a single frame, has a terabyte of memory and can attach up to five petabytes of external storage. It is also easier to manage and maintain.

The Sun Fire includes a Sun Fireplane triple cross-bar interconnect (a high-speed switch between processors and shared memory). The server also allows users to run multiple workloads because it has a partitioning feature that Sun calls "Dynamic System Domains." According to Sun, users can arrange Domains on-the-fly.

Hewlett-Packard also launched its midrange Unix server in September. The rp8400 server uses fewer processors and is available in rack chassis or standalone chassis. The server runs the HP-UX 11i operating system and comes with 16 PA-8700 processors.

SGI surprised the industry by launching its SGI Origin 300 midrange server in early October. The Origin 300 comes in a rack mountable chassis with two, four or eight 64-bit MIPS processors and at least 512 MB memory. In future it will scale up to 32-processors with 32 GB memory.

Sun is the leading server vendor with over 60 percent market share. But IBM has its strengths in mainframe technology and it is now bringing proven technology to midrange servers. That might be a threat to Sun (which is also strong in technology).

In the coming months, vendors like IBM and HP are sure to wrest market share away from Sun.

Meanwhile, let's look at what happened in the local market last year.

Local Market
According to IDC, at the broadest level, Servers can be classified as SIAS and non-SIAS. SIAS (Standard Intel Architecture Server) is a system designed and built around Intel or Intel-compatible processors and running on a generic industry standard chipset. These were earlier known as PC servers. Going by IDC definitions, these systems are considered in the entry-level server class. So the midrange and high-end segment includes only non-SIAS servers.

According to IDC India figures for the Indian server market (including SIAS servers), the midrange and high-end server segments showed strong growth in 2000. Midrange servers had a 21 percent share of the total server market in 2000, up from 17 percent in 1999. High-end servers had six percent share in 2000, up from four percent in 1999.

The Internet has been a key driver for this growth however; the finance companies and stock exchanges are investing heavily in non-SIAS servers.

"Midrange and high-end servers are seeing good growth primarily because customers are clearly looking at consolidation of their application and computing resources," says Kamal Dutta, Country Business Manager, Unix Servers & Solutions, HP India.

During 2000, Compaq Computer recorded the highest growth for overall server sales in India (46 percent) followed by IBM (44 percent), Sun (38 percent), HP (25 percent) and other vendors (7 percent). IDC India also declared vendor market share for non-SIAS servers in 2000 as: Sun 28.5 percent, IBM 25.1 percent, HP 21.7 percent, Compaq 20.3 percent, other vendors 4.4 percent.

For Operating Systems (OS), Unix continues to dominate (49 percent) followed by Windows NT (29 percent) again, these are IDC India figures for 2000. But Linux is fast catching up. A survey conducted by IDC India on 1,000 organizations between Feb 2000 and March 2001, revealed that 33 percent of these organizations had Linux installed on some systems and 3.2 percent used Linux as the primary OS. This compares with 7.3 percent (Linux installations) and 0.6 percent (primary OS) for 1999 - 2000.

Regatta puts IBM back in the race

October 20 was a perfect day for sailing in southern Goa, and IBM took to waters with the launch of its midrange Unix server the eServer pSeries 690. Earlier code-named Regatta, the p690 server has "mainframe class attributes" and is designed for consolidating smaller servers with diverse workloads, and for running large single-system applications like Business Intelligence. The highlight of this server is the new POWER4 processor.

According to Joel Tendler, Program Director-Technology Assessment, Enterprise Systems Group, IBM, and one of the POWER4 architects, the p690 is designed both for technical and commercial applications.

"On the commercial side, it can be used for Banking or Finance, and Manufacturing. But I can also build a supercomputer by connecting a series of such machines. Each processor is capable of four floating-point operations in a cycle. That's over a 166 gigaflops for a 32-way system. Take six of those systems and I have a teraflop."

For high-performance computing it can be used in Universities, for weather forecasting, and in the defense industry.

Analysts around the world say the p690 puts IBM at least a year ahead of the competition, because of superior features like eLiza self-healing technology, logical partitioning, a high-speed switch, and Ultra-dense building blocks.

The system is being offered as an 8-, 16-, 24-, or 32-way symmetric multiprocessor server (SMP).

The POWER4 processors are either 1.1 GHz (1100MHz) or 1.3 GHz. In future IBM will move to 1.5 GHz and 2 GHz speeds. Interestingly, the POWER4 represents the first 'SMP-on-a-chip' or 'Server on a chip' design for Unix servers. Each chip incorporates two processors with a Level 2 cache. Advanced multichip module (MCM) packaging places up to eight POWER4 processors onto a package that can fit in the palm of the hand. This design has been borrowed from the IBM zSeries mainframe class server.

Another feature borrowed from mainframes is logical partitioning. The p690 can be divided into 16 logical partitions and these can run the Linux and AIX operating systems simultaneously.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

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