By Mel Duvall
The high-performance computing server market was battered during the recession along with most other hardware sectors, but one area that held up surprisingly well was the market for supercomputers, according to a survey released Tuesday by IDC.
Overall, factory revenue for the high-performance computing (HPC) technical server market declined by 11.6 percent in 2009, to $8.6 billion, down from $9.7 billion in 2008. Unit shipments dropped 40 percent year-over-year as the economy put the bite on corporate IT budgets.
However, almost seeming to defy the recession, the "supercomputer" segment -- systems priced at $500,000 and up -- actually saw revenues climb 25 percent to $3.4 billion in 2009. IDC said the segment was fueled by multiple transactions in the $100 million range. In addition, the top bracket of the segment, systems priced at $3 million or more, grew by a whopping 65 percent to reach $1 billion.
IDC suspects a significant portion of that top-bracket spending was fueled by government and university spending as well as some sectors like the oil and gas industry, which are seeing a big payback from intensive number crunching applications like 3-D seismic.
"HPC is such an entrenched part of the R&D process in leading oil and gas companies, in government, and in some entertainment and consumer product firms, that budget cuts during the recession have been rare and HPC growth plans are already in place," Jie Wu, research director for technical computing at IDC, said in a statement. "Government and university spending, which together make up about 65 percent of all HPC server revenue, declined less than the overall market in 2009 and with some help from the U.S. government stimulus funding, should remain another bright spot during the recovery."
In other highlights from the study, IBM took the lead in the supercomputer segment with 45 percent market share. Its revenue in the supercomputer segment was also up 37 percent from the previous year.
HP maintained its leadership in the sub-$500,000 market, with 33% revenue share. However, its revenue in that segment was down 32 percent year-over-year.
In terms of overall market share (supercomputers and sub-$500,000 systems), IBM was first with 29.3 percent ($2.53 billion in revenues), followed by HP with 28.6 percent ($2.47 billion), Dell with 12.7 percent ($1.1 billion), Sun with 4.1 percent ($350 million) and Cray with 21.3 percent ($342 million). HP suffered the biggest decline in the group with a 30.6 percent drop in revenues year-over-year, while Cray experienced a 56.7 percent gain, reflecting the strength in the supercomputer market.
"IDC expects the HPC technical server market to begin recovering from the impact of the global economic recession in early 2010, with year-over-year growth projected at 5 percent to 7 percent," said Earl Joseph, IDC vice president for HPC. "And just as the recession affected HPC segments unequally, so too will the recovery. Many firms have been so battered that they will maintain capex (capital expenditure) restrictions even in mission-critical areas such as HPC."
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