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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

"Gartner's current forecast is for RISC and Itanium-based Unix spending to drop from 16 percent of the server market in 2012, to 9 percent in 2017 — representing a steady, but glacial-like decline," Rasit says. "For this position to reverse, Unix providers would need to re-energize software support for the platforms; however, the ongoing momentum of Linux and Windows alternatives makes re-energizing the platform increasingly unappealing."

According to Randy Meyer, vice president/general manager of integrity servers at HP, Unix servers still have advantages when it comes to reliability. For example, automatic failover of applications in data centers on opposite ends of a continent to provide customers with the ability to continuously operate through catastrophes or surges in demand. Think Black Friday' or Cyber Monday,' when retailers must be running on all cylinders in order to make their profits for the year.

"Businesses only get one shot when their products 'go viral.' Given that everything in a modern supply chain, from the raw materials through manufacturing and distribution, is now just-in-time,' there is no excess inventory or margin in the system. And, in today's mobile-enabled consumer market, any outage, any misstep in pricing or logistics is amplified by social media and can affect the entire enterprise in real time," Meyer says. "Many systems are capable, but not necessarily proven; especially under rare, extraordinary events. No one really knows a system's reliability until it's tested under extreme circumstances. Unix has three decades of reliable service."     

Kirk Bresniker, vice president/chief technologist for HP servers, adds, "It also goes beyond the resilience of the platform. The services and support capabilities that have been engineered over the last three decades are a crucial part of customer confidence as well. If your mobile or desktop device hangs, you might curse a bit but, after that, it's the three Rs' — regret, reboot, resume. The system is never improved; but you just want to get back to productivity as soon as possible, so you don't debug anything. In mission-critical platforms, that is simply an unacceptable risk. What if that failure reoccurs at a critical time such as Black Friday' with just minutes to make a profitable year? That's why Unix is often preferred, because it has confirmed reliability."

The future of Unix
Bozman believes that the future of Unix server sales will be driven by several factors, such as applications in telecommunications, financial services, and government. All three of these sectors have large installed bases of Unix servers, which are still in active use worldwide; especially in the telecommunications sector.

In addition, where substantial R&D has created custom applications designed to run on Unix servers, the installed base will be maintained and new Unix servers will be purchased or leased to support those applications. And, where extremely large single-system-image databases run on Unix servers, they will persist for another five to 10 years, at least, because it's often too expensive to re-host those databases onto other types of platforms.


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