ICL has abandoned the uphill struggle to sell its Sparc-based servers, in a move that has shaken the Risc community but left the channel unmoved.
The company, which has licensed Sun's Risc architecture for a decade, said as recently as two months ago that it had no plans to kill or even sideline the Teamserver and Superserver ranges, which are now to be axed. But sources at the company said today that Sparc sales have been falling for a couple of years at least, and now account for about seven per cent of volume server sales. The two product lines are said to have sold only about 1,000 units last year, while Intel-based products sold about 14,000.
"The mathematics are obvious," said one ICL reseller. "And once the Merced processor arrives from Intel who will need Risc?"
While the channel remained unflustered, the 13,000-strong user base of the Hypersparc-based Teamservers and Supersparc-based Superservers may be less calm. Although ICL made the usual noises about supporting the user base for as long as necessary, many believe that will not be for very long. One user, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Users are gradually being forced on to Intel whether they like it or not, and not being given much time to make the move either."
ICL would not comment on the apparent U-turn since its statement of support for the Sparc ranges in May, but it said it will offer "several" migration options for users of the two server ranges and of DRS/NXV7. There are migration services, including free configuration tools, to Unixware-Intel servers, and the company will continue to support NXV7 "as long as demand is sufficient".
The move will also kill off ICL's multiprocessing implementation of Unix System VR4, called DRS/NXV7, which runs only on the Teamserver and Superserver. ICL is a strong supporter of SCO's Unixware and the source said: "SCO and Merced will be a combination that will be ideal for 90 per cent of business users."
Sparc-based architectures will still be used in some high end and specialist machines.
The spectre of Merced is haunting the Sparc community, of which ICL used to be a key member. It was one of the first companies to license Sun's chip technology and the first to offer a Unix implementation based on the System VR4 standard for Sparc. ICL parent Fujitsu even owns 60 per cent of Sparc manufacturer Ross Technology, and ICL is one of Ross' few customers.
The blow to Sparc, and to the wider Risc world, will be felt more deeply in terms of credibility than actual sales, but Risc supporters are very conscious that their camp is collapsing. Of the main Risc architectures, HP's PA is to be merged with Intel in the Merced project, Digital's Alpha and Mips' RX000 are mainly strong in high end server markets, and even IBM's PowerPC pales in comparison with Intel in mass markets.
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