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The last days of Unix

Julie Sartain | Aug. 20, 2013
After a 30-year run, once dominant server OS gets 86ed by x86es

Unix, the core server operating system in enterprise networks for decades, now finds itself in a slow, inexorable decline. IDC predicts that Unix server revenue will slide from $10.2 billion in 2012 to $8.7 billion in 2017, and Gartner sees Unix market share slipping from 16% in 2012 to 9% in 2017.

Jean Bozman, research vice president at IDC Enterprise Server Group, attributes the decline to platform migration issues; competition from Linux and Microsoft; more efficient hardware with more powerful processor cores, which is less expensive and requires less maintenance; and the abundance of Unix-specific apps that can now also run on competitor's servers.

Errol Rasit, research director at Gartner, concurs that the primary cause of Unix weakness over the past decade is migration from the RISC platform to x86-processor based alternatives, which can run many Unix workloads, usually at attractive price/performance ratios. Today, x86 technology attracts most new deployments and innovation, such as cloud computing and fabric-based computing, which further validates the technology as a preferred platform.

"The challenge for users is to understand the minutiae of Unix technology trends and provider strategies," adds Rasit, "And then apply them to their own unique investment strategy, application, and support situation. Many users will continue to invest in Unix systems for mission-critical environments, but many more will seek to divest their reliance on the platform, due to recent ecosystem changes or in line with IT modernization, migration, or consolidation strategies."

Within the Unix ecosystem, IBM has taken advantage of the turmoil at HP, as well as the uncertainty that resulted from Oracle's purchase of Sun. Forrester Vice President Richard Fichera says, "Although the Unix market is declining, there is still considerable competition and churn in the segment. HP-UX has lost considerable market share to IBM, which, as far as I can see, has posted net gain in revenues and market share. Oracle has continued to see declining hardware revenues as well, although their latest product cycle of T5 and M5 servers look truly extraordinary, especially the T5.''

According to Bozman, IDC gives IBM 56% market share, based on 2012 worldwide Unix server revenue. Oracle is a distant second at 19.2%, followed by HP at 18.6%.  No one else above two percent.

Down, but not out
While Unix revenues are in a long, slow descent, nobody is predicting that Unix will go away completely.

Rasit also notes that some Unix platforms are still preferred due to lack of x86 support in several areas,  such as vertical-specific software used in telecommunications; manufacturing and finance; some vertical scaling applications; security and/or encryption features; and low-latency, high-speed backplanes for controlled response times in SLA critical environments.


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