As in other parts of the computer market the attrition
rate in the SPARC market has been high. But most of the companies which have
disappeared in the last year have been Sun VARs rather than OEMs.
the decline in the number of SPARC OEM companies has slowed down in the last
year, and there may even be signs that it will grow again. Forget workstations
and departmental servers. That was the Sun market of the 1990s. We're seeing
an evolutionary trend towards embedded single function appliance type servers -
which range in shape from server farms to mainframes - and the technologies
which can support them.
The scalable part of the SPARC promise has been stalled for a couple
of years. A single company, even Sun, can't change the way that computer systems
are architected. But during the coming year, acceleration products which help
legacy networks run faster, and new technologies like
InfiniBand and high
density CPU chips will make it even easier to extract more applications
performance, more reliably from more processors. That's all users really want.
SPARC Product Directory has
been used by buyers, pre-sales support people, systems integrators and marketers
since 1992. This top 10 SPARC Manufacturers List provides reliable feedback
about the companies which our readers regard as being the most important out of
the 200 manufacturers listed here.
Methodology:- the ranking is based
on the pageviews of company profiles visited by readers in the 2nd quarter of
2003. As a sanity check and to prevent spamming we also analyse these listings
on a monthly basis back to one year ago, and look in detail at the log files if
we suspect any unusual clusters of activity.
Profiles can be reached a
number of sources in the directory including:- directory listings, news stories,
site search-engine and articles. This provides a reliable sampling of relative
reader interest. We have used this method to measure and rank reader interest in
subjects on this web site since 1996.
What Can We Learn from the
Results? - Embedded Systems are the Future Growth Area for SPARC
years' #1 SPARC company, Tadpole remained in first place this year. The
company's change of ownership and focus to being a pure SPARC systems player
didn't slow down its momentum.
market has changed from being a low volume niche market to a high volume market
which has the potential to grow larger than the desktop workstation market.
Unlike the desktop
SPARC market, in which Sun obliterated competitors about three years ago,
the SPARC portable market is still fiercely competitive and has attracted many
new entrants. The main attraction here is that Sun does not make portables, so
there is everything to play for. Portables have been the fastest growing segment
of the Intel architecture market for several years. But until last year the
average price of a SPARC notebook was typicallytwor to three times as high as a
desktop system. That has now changed with SPARC notebooks overlapping in price
with high end PC notebooks. Now everyone who needs to support or develop SPARC
server applications can afford to have mobile binary compatibility.
Innovation in the SPARC
compatible market has not always been rewarded with business success...
The first manufacturer of multiprocessor SPARC systems, Solbourne,
went bust. The first manufacturer of competitive SPARC chip upgrades, Weitek,
was a one off. And IMP, the first company to make fault tolerant SPARC servers,
was acquired by Sun. So it's all the more remarkable that Tadpole, the company
which created the SPARC compatible notebook product category, was the #1 company
profile visited by SPARC Product Directory readers for the second consecutive
year. Tadpole shows no sign of slowing down its pace of technical and marketing
innovation, and with its recent SPARCLE notebook, Tadpole looks set to convert
SPARC notebooks into a high volume "must have" product for Sun server
"We are very proud to be #1 for a second consecutive year,
especially when you consider the company we keep in this ranking", said
Mark Johnston, CEO of Tadpole Computer, Inc. "Tadpole is dedicated to
delivering 64-bit mobile computing SPARC based solutions to the market and this
recognition substantiates our commitment to excellence in that space. We have
every expectation that our new product roadmap for 2003/2004 will result in a
third year at #1 in 2004."
Force Computers moved up one place to the #2 position
this year. This confirms the growing importance of the embedded SPARC systems
market, in particular compactPCI. (5 out of the top 10 companies in this list
compatible compactPCI SBCs.)
This part of the SPARC market has been
growing in recent years despite continuing weakness in the telecoms sector,
which has traditionally been a high user of SPARC embedded systems. The
acceleration of high technology spending by the defense and military markets
since September 11, hasn't hurt this market any either. Looking at the long
term prospects for the SPARC systems market, the embedded SPARC systems market
has the potential to continue growing for several years, even if the market for
commercial mid range servers SPARC servers disappeared altogether. That's due to
mementum and the long lead times (years) to develop and qualify critical
Sun Microsystems has moved up two places this year, a
sign that the company is starting to do things which interest serious systems
buyers again. Sun still faces tremendous problems in growing its SPARC server
revenue, quite apart from the negative performance comparisons with Intel
architecture rivals. Support by other SPARC OEMs using Sun's own motherboards
has declined in recent years, as Sun competed with its customers to take a
greater percentage of the revenue available in the rackmount segment.
the turn of the millenium dozens of manufacturers aggressively marketed Sun
motherboard based systems aimed at commercial users. One president of a company
which pulled out of the SPARC OEM market after more than five years said to me
recently - "We cannot do business with a company that eats its young."
Sun will have to rely on organic growth rather than OEM partnerships to develop
new markets. The lessons from
are clear. Companies which partner with Sun and use SPARC technology in products
without developing significant value added content face the risk of being wiped
out when those market segments get big enough to come into Sun's gun sights.
Looking ahead, I expect Sun will move closer back up to its
traditional place top ranking next year - after it ships products based on its
high density CPU chips. Sun did lose its way in the market for a couple of
years. The server market landscape has changed and Sun will never again be the
force it once was. But Sun has been going through therapy and seeing itself
through other eyes. That's been painful. But if Sun can kick its hype habit, it
will learn that its reliable core technologies are still valued in the
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