Only a few broad-range suppliers and focused vendors will
survive in the server market, claims David Chalmers, product and
technology director at server vendor Stratus Computer Systems.
Server sales are healthy now, but the market is changing rapidly as
developers battle for control of the 64bit processor sector. Around
them, a number of alliances are being formed by operating system
(OS) vendors, and the low-end Intel-based PC architecture server is
under notice from 'appliance' products.
"The supply side of the IT industry is somewhere in the middle
of its biggest and fastest-moving period of change ever," said
Chalmers. "The sort of consolidation and shake-out experienced over
several decades by the car industry, for example, has happened in
just a few years in IT."
It is also clear that the winners will not necessarily be those
with the 'best' technologies, he said. "Those who have the
financial muscle or product clarity of vision will be the long-term
players." This applies mainly to the struggle for control of the
processor platform. Those that can generate volume sales, not those
with the fastest and most innovative products, will win.
"Vast sums are needed to build and re-build processor
fabrication plants," he added. "This clearly places Intel at the
top of the heap by a very long way, with only IBM and its
copper-based production technologies as an alternative. All others
will eventually end up withering away. Most will get there after a
spell when their processor designs are manufactured by one of the
winners, such as Alpha at Intel and PA-Risc at IBM."
Even so, manufacturers are circumspect about their choices.
Perhaps they don't want Intel to gain too much power.
Compaq is sitting firmly on the fence in the processor game.
Iain Stephen, business manager at the vendor's server division,
said: "Alpha already dominates the 64bit processor market, with the
largest number of 64bit applications and the highest
"However, Intel-based servers are the platform for Windows
NT/2000, Netware and SCO - the volume leaders in the industry. My
view is that the 64bit Risc processors with a stated future -
Alpha, Sparc and PowerPC - will be used in more niche applications
and industry areas. When Itanium hits the right price and
performance levels, it will become the standard server processor
for general applications," he added.
Intel's 64bit Itanium (IA-64) development will win the battle
for the broad server product market, but much of its uptake will
rely a great deal on the old Wintel alliance. Recent events in the
US law courts, and the questions still being asked by the market
about the reliability and scalability of Windows for really
substantial applications, mean that Itanium will not be the only
processor on the market and Windows 2000 won't be the only OS.
Distributors claim Compaq's Tru64 Unix running on Alpha is
experiencing significant growth at the moment, and IBM is helping
Compaq with Alpha development. Slowly, but well away from the war
zone, the lines are being drawn in the sand.
Taking a Risc
Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems argues that it has the only successful
64bit UltraSparc processor, and that its Solaris 8 operating
environment is the only working combination available today. David
Allinson, workgroup and network servers product marketing manager
at Sun, said: "By using Risc technology with a strong focus on
multi-threading and synchronous multi-processing, we have developed
a product offering that has established Sun as the leading Unix
vendor and the reliable system of choice for web-based
David French, enterprise business specialist at distributor
Ideal Hardware, expects Sun to focus its efforts on Intel's
technology, while IBM seems to be in a similar position with
PowerPC "despite having already demonstrated that it has the right
technologies in place to build extremely powerful processors", he
"The way forward would be for competition in processors to thin
out considerably, with the existing handful consolidating down to
three technologies: Intel, Alpha and perhaps one other. Compaq has
good support for Alpha with its manufacturing and development
partnerships with IBM and Samsung. That could indicate IBM may have
Alpha in mind as a platform for its own OSs," he added.
Compaq's Stephen said: "There must be a future for Solaris. It
is the leading Unix OS, with lots of applications and an installed
base. Is there a future for Sparc? That depends on the success of
the Solaris port to Itanium."
IBM seems unsure what the OS or processor of the future is,
but it is a player big enough to back PowerPC and Itanium alongside
AIX, Monterey and Linux for some time. "But it will have to
eventually choose one, or its customers will make the decision for
it," said Stephen.
The same law will apply to Compaq. None of the major vendors
seem certain which way the platform market will go. It is likely
that we will continue to see specific server solutions for high-end
applications with a variety of OS and processor combinations. At
the low end, purpose-built servers that require no OS, but fit into
a multiple platform architecture, will become more popular, forcing
all but Windows 2000 and possibly Linux, up market.
Grabbing a slice of the market
Windows NT has taken a large slice of the market, but "dominate is
a strong word", said Stephen. Unix and Novell both have life in
them yet, but for different reasons.
As to the OS platform for the future, few are ready to predict
how the dice will fall. "For the past five years, I have believed
that application vendors hold the key to all of this," said
Stephen. "If SAP chooses to support only one platform, who can
change that decision? Likewise, if the next generation of
applications supported only Linux, what would everyone do?"
He believes it is too early to talk about what might happen if
Windows is opened up to the market as a result of Microsoft's
breakup. However, Eric Grayson, vice president of NCD, does not
believe that Windows will be opened up, while Allinson believes any
break-up will make little difference. "Speed to market is crucial
as customers will just pick what is available and is proven to
work. There will be no time to try, develop and migrate to new,
unproven operating systems," said Allinson.
But not all developments in the server market concern the
processor and platform. Clustering is seen as one of the key areas
in the years ahead.
Although it has been talked about for some time, this technology
has not yet delivered on its promises for the wider market.
However, that will change, Allinson predicted. "Clustering is
important in two major respects: to ensure application availability
and maintain data integrity, and for system management and network
traffic load balancing to provide system redundancy."
But Stephen believes clustering will not happen quickly because
applications development will delay adoption. "In the Windows
world, clusters are about availability," he said.
The other major trend in the server market is the growth of the
appliance server. High-end servers will be designed to meet
specific applications or functional needs. This is where the
different architectures, processors and OSs will find their niches.
At the lower end, we will see a struggle between Itanium/Windows
2000-based equipment and server appliances.
Some vendors are already bringing out these products and there
are rivals as well. We are entering a transition period in server
technology that will see the market move from its current,
relatively flat and highly competitive state, to one that has more
clearly defined areas of server-based computing.
Jeff Hewlett, Intel product manager for the infrastructure and
systems division at Bull, said there is a huge drive to consolidate
servers, particularly those for email, file and print applications
and multiple databases. This is leading to higher demand for
rack-mounted servers, he said.
Internet-based email is the key driver here. Further development
of specialist server appliances can be expected after this period,
said Stephen. "Maybe in 18 to 24 months we will see the next
generation of applications use local appliances for dedicated
tasks. But IT people are reluctant to believe an appliance can do
as good a job at a lower price than something they build and manage
Mark Kinsell, a representative of distributor Hammer, said
servers are becoming bespoke items at the top end of the market.
"It is virtually unheard of for two organisations to have identical
IT needs. Traditional server functions will be provided by a series
of specialised Lan-attached devices in conjunction with application
For appliance server developers, these are positive signs, but
they may have to wait before sales really take off.
Intel's Itanium processor looks set to dominate the volume
server market, and Windows 2000 will ride on its success.
Other 64bit processors, such as Alpha and Sun Sparc, will not
die out but will, along with their respective operating
environments, increasingly occupy niche areas.
Appliance servers will start to meet basic small business and
departmental needs and push all other server developments up
Clustering will become a much more important technology as
vendors look to scale their systems vertically and
Alliances between processor and OS vendors will reduce the
number of broad market players.
Some of the products that appear on this site are from companies from which QuinStreet receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site including, for example, the order in which they appear. QuinStreet does not include all companies or all types of products available in the marketplace.