Despite an indifferent year, IBM ruled the high-performance computing (HPC) roost in 2009, with all its major rivals haemorrhaging sales and market share as global revenue declined 11.6 per cent.
Research from IDC reveals worldwide HPC technical server revenue was $8.6bn (£5.8bn) last year, down from $9.7bn in 2008. Unit shipments fell off a massive 40 per cent. Despite this, sales of supercomputers, (defined as HPC systems worth $500,000 or more), were up by a quarter to $3.4bn.
This was fuelled, in part, by "multiple transactions in the $100m range", while the $3m-plus segment grew sales by almost two-thirds to $1bn. But global revenue from sub-$100,000 systems dropped off by a third to $1.7bn.
IDC's HPC programme vice president Earl Joseph predicted that the market would begin the recovery process this year, with sales projected to rise between five and seven per cent annually.
"Just as the recession affected HPC market segments unequally, so too will the recovery," he added. "Many firms have been so battered that they will maintain CapEx restrictions, even in mission-critical areas such as HPC."
IBM took bragging rights in the supercomputer segment, snaffling 45 per cent of the market. Big Blue also led the overall HPC market, after boosting its market share by almost three points on 2008 to 29.3 per cent. The vendor's 2009 sales stood at $2.53bn, representing a comparatively small decline of 2.3 per cent year on year.
HP, in second spot, endured a torrid year, with revenue down 30.6 per cent to $2.47bn. Over the course of the year, the firm also contrived to blow a 10 point lead as the leading vendor as it market share slipped almost eight points to 28.6 per cent.
Dell, in third, saw sales slump 29.2 per cent to $1.1bn, while market share fell off 3.2 points to 12.7 per cent. Fourth-placed Sun saw sales plummet more than a quarter to $350m, while its market share slipped seven tenths of a point to 4.1 per cent.
Fifth-placed Cray, a supercomputing specialist, enjoyed a stellar 2009, with sales up 56.7 per cent to $342m. The Seattle-based firm almost doubled its market share annually to four per cent. IDC indicated the company benefited from its dedicated "strong focus on the very high end of the market, which remains somewhat insulated from economic conditions."
There was another feather for the firm's cap in November, when a biannual list of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputers saw Cray overhaul IBM at the top. After 18 months as number one, IBM's Roadrunner machine at Los Alamos was forced into second spot by Cray's Jaguar system at The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Cray also took third, with its Kraken machine at the US National Institute for Computational Sciences. The UK's leading supercomputer, based at the University of Ediburgh, is also a Cray.
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