Reading a story about the latest server sales, an image flashed up in my mind: a painting called The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, depicting the squalid end of the eponymous hero, murdered in the French Revolution. There he lies, slumped in his bath and bleeding profusely. It is a powerful, if not pretty, picture.
Swap out Marat for a box full of circuitry and (taking a few liberties with a siginificant chunk of political history, admittedly) you have the server market. Revenues slumping 30 per cent year on year, market size at its lowest swince before the dotcoms, Sun Microsystems in freefall... not good; not good at all.
At a time of revolution you can only take a moment to grab a few snapshots so here's what might be going on.
1. Obviously, the macro economy is having a big effect. Servers still represent a chunk of infsrastructure spend so buying/replacing units will have been deferred in mnay cases.
2. Virtualisation is a killer for box-shifters. They may not shout about it but hardware outfits wish VMware had never come along. It's slicing through revenue streams and giving boxes sold way back an extra lease of life.
3. Blade servers are cheap and the market is growing but that is putting paid to a fatter-margin business for larger, general-purpose servers.
4. The datacentre is shipping out. Trends to outsourcing, hosting, software as a service and the growth of 'bit factories' like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are changing the face of server requirements. These companies -- especially the bit factories -- want low-cost products that can be ripped out and replaced.
Point 4 is the reason why companies like Dell are setting up divisions that focus on the mega-datacentre opportunity. Stephen Murdoch, general manager of Dell's large enterprise business for EMEA, recently told me:
"Things a commercial customer might value, like PSUs, doubling up on RAM, having expansion slots for communications... therese guys don't want to know at all. One of them said: give me the smallest box you can, put in a light so I know when it fails and it would be nice if it were yellow."
A market where servers become commodity items will be bad news for today's server giants and this market is only just starting to be made. Some analysts feel that the market is due to bounce back next year but it could be that there will just be another kind of bloodbath.