It's official - NT cut into Unix growth in 1996

The Unix systems market grew 12% in 1996 - but that fell short of a projected growth rate of 14.7%. The reason was competition from Windows NT and Intel processor-based desktop and server machines, according to year-end research from International Data Corp. (IDC), which sees the trend continuing.

The Unix systems market grew 12% in 1996 - but that fell short of a projected growth rate of 14.7%. The reason was competition from Windows NT and Intel processor-based desktop and server machines, according to year-end research from International Data Corp. (IDC), which sees the trend continuing.

Sales of traditional Unix workstations will continue to slow over the next few years as NT begins its ascent to the most widely used platform by the year 2000, according to the report. Unix RISC workstation sales fell from US$12.1 billion in 1995 to $11.4 billion in 1996.

The main reason for this decline is that "Intel-based systems running the NT Workstation operating system are beginning to take on tasks formerly handled by low-end Unix RISC workstations," according to the report.

However, despite strong growth in NT server sales, Unix server sales continued to grow at rates of 22 to 34% in 1996. Small-scale Unix server (under $100,000) revenues grew 22% from $9.1bn in 1995 to $11.1bn this year, while midrange system ($100,000 to $999,000) revenues grew 34% to $9bn. Steady growth in the low-to-midrange Unix server market was due to continued strong use of Unix servers as platforms for relational database engines, according to IDC. Large-scale Unix server ($1 million and up) revenue grew 5 percent in 1996.

In 1997, low-end Unix server sales will slow due to competition from NT-based servers, however. Many corporations will install a majority of NT servers and workstations over the next three years, but will also continue to purchase Unix systems until Microsoft addresses such issues as clustering, scalability compatibility and support for high-speed graphics, according to IDC. The major switch to NT in lieu of Unix should begin to happen in 1998 when Microsoft releases its Wolfpack clustering software, according to the report.

One way Unix system vendors will differentiate their machines from NT-based ones is by offering high-speed 64-bit computers aimed at boosting database performance by allowing servers to process data directly in memory instead of fetching it from disk, according to the report. One example of this tactic is Silicon Graphics Inc.'s O2 line of desktop workstations, which start at around $6000 and are 10 times faster than the company's old Indy line of machines.

Overall, if Unix vendors can convince users that their workstations and servers fill a role that NT can't, the Unix market will continue to grow, according to the report. However, the Microsoft-Intel partnership will undoubtedly dampen many company's sales.

International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., is at http://www.idcresearch.com/. IDC is owned by IDG.

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