A strong recovery in fourth-quarter 2009 server sales, rising average selling prices, and prospects for further growth helped smooth over an otherwise pessimistic report on server sales for the entire year.
Analyst firm Gartner on Wednesday reported that 2.3 million servers were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2009, up 4.5 percent over the 2.1 million servers shipped in the fourth quarter of 2008.
However, revenue from the sale of those servers reached $12.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009, down 3.2 percent compared to the same period of 2008.
The report's results showed a remarkable late-year recovery in the server market when compared to sales for all of 2009. For the entire year, server shipments were down 16.6 percent to 7.6 million units compared to 2008, while revenue fell 18.3 percent to $43.1 billion.
However, the significance of that fourth-quarter growth was somewhat mitigated by the fact that it compared fourth quarter 2009 to a very weak fourth quarter 2008, Gartner said.
Despite the poor economy in 2009 and a historical downtrend in component and system prices, the average selling price for both x86-based and RISC/Itanium-based servers both rose in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year.
In particular, the average selling price of an x86-based server was $3,507 in the fourth quarter of 2009, up from $3,260 in the same period of 2008. For RISC/Itanium servers, the average selling price rose from $41,942 to $48,271 during the same time.
The rise in average selling price indicated that customers were purchasing more powerful servers than in the past. That fits an overall general trend to move more and more server loads from individual physical servers and consolidate them onto fewer but more powerful servers with virtualization technology.
Gartner on Wednesday also said that blade server sales outpaced those of servers as a whole by a significant margin.
The analyst firm estimated that blade server shipments rose 11.1 percent while revenue rose 22.1 percent between the fourth quarter of 2008 and 2009. For all of 2009, Hewlett-Packard had a blade server market share of 46.8 percent in terms of shipments, followed by 28.2 percent for IBM, Gartner said.
Server shipments to the U.S. market rose 9.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the fourth quarter of 2008, while total server revenue declined in the region by 5.1 percent during that time.
For the fourth quarter of 2009, HP was the leading vendor of x86-based servers, with a 32.6-percent market share of shipments and a 38.0-percent share in terms of revenue.
It was followed by Dell, which shipped 22.4 percent of all x86-based servers and brought in 20.0 percent of the market's revenue during the quarter.
IBM, Fujitsu, and NEC rounded out the top five servers in terms of shipments, while IBM, Fujitsu, and Sun Microsystems rounded out the top five in terms of revenue.
For 2010, Gartner said it expects server shipment growth in the mid to high single digits, with revenue growing at a slightly lower level. The slow increase is due to the growth in virtualization to consolidate physical servers, Gartner said.