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the Top #10 Most Important SPARC Manufacturers - 2003

article by Zsolt Kerekes - editor/publisher - July 21, 2003
Are Sun's Days Numbered?
the 2002 top 10 SPARC list
Surviving the Solaris x86 Wars
Last Market Report on Sun Compatible OEMs?
Why Sun Should Acquire a Solid State Disk Company
Sun, SPARC and Solaris Highlights and Lowlights in 2004
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Rank Company
1 Tadpole Computer
2 Force Computers
3 Sun Microsystems
4 Continuous Computing
5 Themis Computer
6 Antares Microsystems
7 LSI Logic
9 SBS Technologies
10 Ibus
11 Network Technologies
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Proso 2000 dual SPARC CPU portable
Ruggedized Portable Server
(Dual UltraSPARC III-i)
from Naturetech

Solaris Ready- "World's Fastest Storage"
from Texas Memory Systems
SPARC manufacturers
...Later:- note added Q104
The top 10 SPARC companies article wasn't updated in 2004, and will not be updated in 2005. It's likely that the number of SPARC focused manufacturers may drop from its peak of 250+ down to maybe fewer than 50 companies - therefore making a "top 10" list less meaningful.

Much later - by 2010 - the SPARC compatible hardware market had declined to just a handful of companies.

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.

Surprisingly 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.

The 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

Last 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.

The SPARC portable 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 developers.

"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 manufacture SPARC 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 embedded applications.

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.

At 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."

So Sun will have to rely on organic growth rather than OEM partnerships to develop new markets. The lessons from SPARC History 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 marketplace.

See also:- the #1 subject on - Solid state disks
today's SPARC news SPARC computers SBus & PCI cards
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SPARC(R) is a registered trademark of SPARC International, Inc. SPARC PRODUCT DIRECTORY(SM) is a service mark of SPARC International, Inc used under license by ACSL. Products using the SPARC trademarks are based on an architecture developed by Sun Microsystems, Inc.