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Unix reclaims server speed crown

Two weeks ago, a server running Windows triumphed in a key speed test for the first time. Now a new IBM computer has won the crown back for Unix.

Just weeks after a Windows server took top spot in a key speed test for the first time, a new IBM computer has won the crown back for Unix.

IBM's p690 Turbo Unix server, newly overhauled with faster processors and other components, posted a score of 681,000 transactions per minute on the Transaction Processing Performance Council's TPC-C test. It edged ahead of the 658,000 score posted two weeks ago by Hewlett-Packard's Superdome running Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 operating system.

"I saw (Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer stand in front of a German audience and crow that they had TPC-C bragging rights. Well, they don't," RedMonk analyst James Governor said.

Microsoft isn't the only company taking a hit from the test result. Big Blue has long used Oracle's database software for its TPC-C testing, but in a significant strategic shift, the company this time used its own DB2 product.

"It certainly underscores software's ascendance within IBM, not just from a marketing perspective but from a technology perspective," Governor said. "If the database wasn't good enough, IBM server folks would not be pushing it."

The move also pulls the rug out from underneath Oracle's marketing effort, which will no longer be able to boast that IBM was forced to use Oracle's software when trying to wring the last scrap of performance out of a system during benchmark testing, he added.

Oracle is fighting to defend its No. 1 position in the database market.

In the TPC-C tests, IBM has been working furiously to regain the top spot since a 128-processor Fujitsu system took over in 2001.

The TPC-C benchmark is only partially representative of actual real-world performance. For example, competing systems are sometimes configured in unusual ways, potentially distorting test results. Sun Microsystems, a major server maker, refuses to participate because of these caveats and because running such tests costs millions of dollars.

But for all its flaws, interest in TPC-C has re-emerged of late, according to Governor. "I don't know why it's come back," he said. Two major customers--a financial services company in Japan and a retailer in the United States--were pinning their decision to buy IBM Unix servers on the benchmark result, he said.

IBM's winning system cost $7.6 million, compared with $6.4 million for the HP Superdome running Windows. However, because IBM's system uses 32 processors compared to 64 for the Superdome, owners of machines with the IBM design could end up paying lower software licensing fees if the license is based on processor count.

The upcoming release of new server systems could mean that IBM's reign will last only months.

HP is working on benchmarks for future Superdomes running Unix instead of Windows, the company has said. In addition, it expects to release systems with 128 HP PA-RISC 8800 processors or 128 Intel Itanium processors in coming months. However, IBM expects to counter these contenders with its 64-processor "Squadron" Unix server, set for launch in 2004.