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Tuesday's Oracle move comes at a time when the overall market for Unix servers based on the Itanium processor or on RISC processors such as Oracle's SPARC is declining.
Gartner in February estimated that a total of 198,855 RISC and Itanium Unix servers were shipped worldwide in 2010, down 16.8 percent from the 238,928 servers shipped in 2009. Revenue for those servers reached $10 billion, down 11.6 percent from the $11.3 billion spent in 2009.
Oracle's Sun server line has taken the biggest beating as the market drops. It was the largest shipper of servers to the RISC and Itanium Unix market, accounting for a 41.3 percent share of the market, Gartner said. However, its shipments fell by more than 29 percent from 2009, the largest drop of any vendor.
In terms of revenue, Oracle was number three with a market share of 24.6 percent. But Oracle's revenue for this part of the market fell 19.4 percent, a number that was exceeded only by Groupe Bull, a French company with a 1.5-percent market share, Gartner said.
It was even worse for Oracle in the fourth quarter of 2010, several months after Oracle articulated its Sun server strategy. The total number of servers shipped in the fourth quarter fell 10.7 compared to the fourth quarter of 2009, but Oracle's shipments fell 31.2 percent during that time. However, Oracle's fourth-quarter revenue dropped only 15.5 percent over the year before.
HP has fared a little better. It was the third-largest shipper of servers to the RISC and Itanium Unix market with an 18 percent market share for all of 2010, with shipments down 6.6 percent over 2009. HP was the second largest in terms of 2010 revenue with a 27.8 percent share, with revenue falling 12.7 percent over 2009.
However, for the fourth quarter of 2010, HP's RISC-Itanium server shipments actually rose 3.1 percent over 2009, while its revenue fell only 5.4 percent during that time.
Given the decline in Oracle server business, it is hard for solution providers to see how Oracle can be a clear winner in this new dispute with HP.
Gulati said that customers who are close to HP are more likely to move to HP's x86-based blade server platform. "If they are not loyal to HP, they may look to IBM or Oracle or Dell," he said. "The dispute could be a boost to Oracle-Sun. Oracle still has 30 percent of the market. But it will boost IBM, too."
Katz said he sees other companies as winners in the dispute, particularly Microsoft and its Windows and SQL database market and Red Hat's Linux business. "The Microsoft people are rubbing their hands in anticipation," he said.
IBM could also be a winner, in a perverse way, given the long-time rivalry between Oracle and IBM in the database market, Katz said.
"Oracle is now in a position of supporting IBM, and helping Microsoft and Red Hat," he said. "This is weird. Microsoft, Red Hat, and IBM are coming out winners."
The dispute over Itanium is a way for Oracle to reduce the number of hardware platforms it supports while getting more support for its Sun platform, said Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider and HP partner.
"The benefit of Oracle's being in the hardware business is that they can eliminate the competition," Teter said. "But there are no real winners between the two. It's only Oracle taking advantage of being in the hardware business to eliminate HP. But it's just a blip in Oracle's revenue."
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