Enterprise Unix Roundup: Parsing the Numbers

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Feb 24, 2006


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The latest IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker report is in. Windows may have trounced Unix, but Linux will soon be nipping at its heels. Looking for a strong BSD-compatible packet-filtering firewall? Consider pf.

Brian Proffitt
Amy Newman

Excitement is not exactly the word we would use to describe how we feel about the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker report. This, well, quarterly report is good for about two news cycles worth of information, and then is quickly forgotten.

The first news cycle typically focuses on the operating systems, since that's what IDC's report emphasizes. The second cycle the focus on the actual server manufacturers, who have by then figured out the best way to spin the result into something they can use for their next round of ads. You know, out-of-context blurbs like "Rated No. 1 server by IDC!" or some such, often parsed into something nonsensical to achieve the top spot. These blurbs, like movie ad blurbs, we tend to take with a huge grain of salt.

Still, this week's release of data from the final quarter of 2005 was interesting enough for us to sit up and take notice. After all, it's been a long time since the lead server OS got passed. But, apparently that's what happened in 2005 — Windows had more server revenue for the entire year ($17.7 billion) than did Unix ($17.5 billion). Curiously, for the quarter itself, Unix did beat Windows, with $5.0 billion in revenue compared to Redmond's $4.9 billion. But don't expect Unix to make a comeback: Year-over-year Windows' revenue grew by 4.7 percent, while Unix revenue declined 5.9 percent.

Lots of numbers, which will no doubt be subjected to much spinning, but the clear result is spin-free: Unix is getting trounced in the server revenue department. Since IBM's AIX and HP's HP-UX haven't made any big technological or marketing moves of late, and Apple's OS X server isn't gaining any traction, it's going to be up to Sun Microsystems' Solaris to turn around the fate of commercial Unix.

Of course, it's tempting to give the credit to Microsoft for having passed of Unix. But quite realistically, the mega-giant software company likely got to the number one spot on the back of a small aquatic fowl. Because although Windows server revenue increased in a server market that saw an overall decrease from 2004 to 2005, Unix revenue was likely taken by Linux server revenue, which went up year-over-year by a whopping 20.8 percent.

Not to mention that the decline in revenue was in part attributed to an increase in volume servers — boxes that typically run Linux or Windows.

With a total 2005 revenue of $5.7 billion, Linux remains way back in third place in the total server market, so penguinistas shouldn't get too excited. But if Linux keeps getting these double-digit growth numbers, it is going to attract a lot of attention from enterprises — especially those looking to migrate away from Unix.

Just as a hypothetical, if these growth numbers stay at exactly the same rate for 2006 (which they won't, but help us indulge in our numerical fantasies), Windows revenue could be $18.5 billion, Unix $16.5 billion, and Linux $6.9 billion. Based on these rates of decline, if they were to stay the same indefinitely, Linux server revenue would surpass Unix revenue by 2010.

Again, to expect those numbers to stay like that for any of the server channels would be ludicrous, but it's got to keep Scott McNealy up at night. We can't wait to see how the numbers shake out this time next year.

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