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Sun tops Unix server sales

Sun leapfrogs both IBM and HP in recording a 75-percent year-on-year increase, but the market is losing ground to Windows NT.

Sun Microsystems has emerged as the No. 1 Unix server maker, becoming the biggest fish in an increasingly small pond.

Sun jumped two positions to lead the industry in unit shipments, leapfrogging both IBM and Hewlett-Packard, according to an upcoming report from International Data Corporation (IDC). The Palo Alto-based company recorded a 75-percent year-over-year increase, in effect stealing rivals' sales.

Although servers based around Microsoft's Windows NT have cut into Unix turf, Sun has managed to grow its business by concentrating on servers that are more powerful than NT servers, but comparatively cheap for Unix boxes. Sun enjoys most of its success in the sub-$100,000 and $100,000 to $1 million markets, two spaces where NT servers are mostly theoretical.

Sun has created a niche for itself within the traditionally high-end Unix platform by offering midrange and low-end solutions that appeal to companies looking for the stability of Unix at an NT price, according to IDC analyst Jay Bretzmann.

"HP doesn't have a product in the same space, at that price point," Bretzmann said, noting that "HP and IBM are introducing NT solutions that are an equally good technology for a lot of applications. File and print sharing is where NT gives Unix a run for its money."

Bretzmann attributed much of Sun's success to the stability of its Solaris operating environment. "You can't decouple the hardware from the operating system," he said. "The hardware comes in at the right price point, but the OS has the magic, it's the linchpin."

Still, NT is clearly eating into the overall market. While Sun surpassed IBM and HP in Unix units, it trailed both companies in overall server revenue, according to IDC.