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Scott Drummonds on Virtualization

x86 Über Alles

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RISC is dead.  x86 is taking over the world.

At least that is how I read a press release from IDC dated 28 February, 2012.  Here are a few key points from the IDC statement:

“For the full year 2011, worldwide server revenue increased 5.8% to $52.3 billion when compared to 2010, while worldwide unit shipments increased 4.2% to 8.3 million units.”  These are the full-year numbers.  For the fourth quarter alone revenue and units were down.  But on the whole, 2011 was a good year.

But what about that fourth quarter fall?  “Volume systems experienced a 2.0% year-over-year factory revenue decline to $8.8 billion, while midrange revenue decreased 4.6% to $1.8 billion when compared to 4Q10. Additionally, high-end system revenue declined 18.4% to $3.7 billion in the quarter.”  The cheaper systems declined the least.  Bigger systems were hit hard.  I usually equate “cheaper systems” with x86.  But its not fair to jump to that conclusion yet.

Even with the fourth quarter declines, one segment was up in the fourth quarter: “Linux server … revenue improved 2.2% year over year in 4Q11 to $2.6 billion.”  Linux servers are more commonly deployed on x86 than RISC.  Similarly Windows did well by falling less than server shipments in the fourth quarter: “Microsoft Windows server demand subsided slightly in 4Q11 as hardware revenue decreased 1.5% year over year.”  I believe these two points provide indirect support of the claim that x86 is taking over.

No point in beating around the bush any more.  The report states what IDC measured:

Unix servers experienced a revenue decline of 10.7% year over year to $3.4 billion representing 24.2% of quarterly server revenue for the quarter.

Followed shortly by:

The [x86] architecture accounted for 64.1% of all server spending. … As a result of a strong demand throughout the year, worldwide x86 server revenue for 2011 increased 7.7% to $34.4 billion.

I imagine that the 13.7% gap between the named Unix and x86 servers is accounted for by Windows on RISC and other rare operating systems.  But no matter where the chips fall in that group, x86 processors are dominating the market and growing much faster than their RISC counterparts.

4 Responses

Interesting info Scott.
Based on the fact that RISC-based servers are generally more expensive than x86, I’d estimate that if you extrapolated these figures to the number of servers shipped the numbers for RISC would look even worse than the already dismal revenue numbers indicate.

  • Let’s not forget that Q4 2011 server spending on x86_64 was way below normal because many shops were waiting for GA of Sandy Bridge before making any more major infrastructure outlays.

  • The missing piece is probably largely Z series although NonStop and some other niche players might account for a percent or two.

  • I was with a local bank. The server team have a per core pricing from a unix vendor. And it was priced low too. That makes the unix OS doing well in this bank. Yup, I was surprised 🙂