High-End Linux Apps Driving Server Sales

The global server market continues to show strong signs of coming back to life as IT customers increasingly regard Linux as a feasible, scalable and reliable player in more parts of the enterprise. Linux is taking hold in places previously reserved for the highest end of computing requirements.

“High-performance computing isn’t just for government labs and universities anymore,” analyst Mark Melenovsky told LinuxInsider in an interview. “Increasingly, commercial enterprises are employing clusters to do portfolio analysis or supply-chain management in a retail environment.”

With overall server sales on the rise — four consecutive quarters of growth in factory revenue — and increased support from heavy-hitters Computer Associates and Novell, Linux now can begin to take advantage of all of the new support and momentum coming its way.

Linux Becoming More Important

“Linux servers are playing increasingly important roles in IT customers’ computing infrastructure,” said Jean S. Bozman, research vice president of global enterprise server solutions at IDC. “They are taking on enterprise workloads, now that more ISV applications are available for both technical and commercial workloads on the Linux server platform.”

“We believe there were about 240,000 Linux servers sold in the first quarter of this year, and the vast majority is going into front-end or high-performance clusters. A very small share are going into the database, but that’s a growing market,” Melenovsky said. “Certainly ISVs want to get in early.”

Computer Associates announced recently that it will open its source code on its Ingres database within 90 days; MySQL, Oracle and a few others already have been shipping Linux for some time. Database Linux sales, however, are relatively low, Melenovsky said.

Database Still on the Fringes

“Linux is not a very database-intensive platform today,” Matt Eastwood, an analyst at IDC, told LinuxInsider. For 2002, the latest year for which IDC has released statistics, 14.1 percent of Linux server revenue went toward databases.

Compare that with 50 percent of Unix spending tied to databases, and 20 percent of Windows spending, for the same period, and it’s clear that all Linux fans aren’t willing or able to commit to Linux in the database market just yet.

Eastwood estimated Oracle might be seeing 40 to 50 percent of all revenue in the Linux database market, which translated into approximately $55 million to $65 million in 2002 dollars. Still, that’s “a drop in the bucket compared to $6 billion-plus in hardware value attributable to Oracle in 2002 for all operating systems,” he said.

‘Good Enough’

While Linux has been growing for some time, a combination of factors is helping mostly nondatabase Linux-based systems gain market share at this time in particular. “One, it’s the applications and workloads — Web serving, Web infrastructure, the Internet-related front-end apps, security — that are in demand right now,” Eastwood said. “Linux is good enough on hardware, on price-performance, right now, so it’s a good fit there.”

Another reason Linux has an advantage right now is its affinity to Unix, “so migration from older platforms that are being retired to Linux [is] taking place, and one of the areas that this is taking place most visibly is Linux clusters.”

Linux servers posted more than $900 million in worldwide factory revenue, nearing $1 billion in Q1 2004 for the second consecutive quarter, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker.

Double-Digit Growth

Linux server revenue and unit shipments have grown at double-digit rates since the second half of 2002, according to IDC. Nearly 50 percent more Linux units have shipped since last year, and even Windows, with its wide penetration, has shipped more than 25 percent new units since last year.

Overall, for the worldwide server market, factory revenue grew at 7.3 percent year-over-year to $11.5 billion in the first quarter of 2004, marking the fourth consecutive quarter of positive growth. What does it all mean? “IT spending is clearly trending upward, and IT organizations are beginning to rebuild their computing infrastructure,” Vernon Turner, group vice president of global enterprise server solutions at IDC, said in a written statement.

Year-over-year, Linux servers showed 56.9 percent growth with a 46.4 percent unit shipment rate increase. At the same time, Windows servers saw double-digit growth, with profits up 16.4 percent and unit shipments up 26.5 percent.

One area that still remains in its infancy, however, is a migration into more business-critical workloads, such as databases and back-end business applications, Melenovsky said. “It’s certainly taking place, but it’s a very small portion of the Linux market,” he noted, pointing to the relative instability of the operating system compared to Unix-based databases, plus the limiting processor scale at this time. But, he added, “It’s getting there.”

IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker quantitatively tracks and analyzes the global server market every quarter. The Tracker includes shipments and revenues, segmented by vendor, family, model, region, operating system, price, CPU type and architecture.

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