June 19, 2013, 1:40 PM — Demand for mainframe and high-performance Unix servers is falling, but a new wave of SPARC and IBM Power chips for the servers will be unwrapped at the Hot Chips conference in late August.
IBM, Oracle and Fujitsu -- the main suppliers of Unix server chips -- will talk about their next-generation RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) chips at the conference, which will be held Stanford University from Aug. 25 to 28. The chips typically go into high-availability servers, which are falling out of favor to the inexpensive and flexible x86 servers.
IBM will talk about the "next-generation Power microprocessor," according to the conference agenda. The next set of SPARC processors will also be detailed: Oracle will talk about SPARC M6, described in the agenda as the company's "next generation processor for massively scalable symmetric multiprocessor data center servers," and Fujitsu will talk about SPARC64 X+, successor to the current 16-core SPARC64 X.
The new chips, when released, will be critical for the companies. Revenue from Unix servers has fallen for seven straight quarters as lines between the non-x86 and x86 processors blur. While server revenue for IBM, Oracle and Fujitsu declined in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter a year ago, revenue for x86-exclusive vendors Dell and Cisco went up. IBM also sells x86 servers, and the top server maker, Hewlett-Packard, sells servers running on x86 and also Intel's Itanium processors, whose future is in question.
Revenue on Unix servers may be going down but the margins on them are huge, which is why companies like IBM and Oracle are continuing chip development, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.
The revenue from these servers also trickles into software, Brookwood said..
"Oracle thinks that by controlling the total stack -- applications, database, middleware, down to the silicon itself -- it gives them advantages they can't get by using commodity products like x86," Brookwood said.
Ever since Oracle acquired Sun a few years ago, they have been hiring in the hardware division rather than constraining it, Brookwood said.
IBM's application stack may not be as strong, but the company offers a wider range of products and services, Brookwood said..
"Those businesses can fund a lot of research and development in silicon," Brookwood said.