Server vendors shipped 13.7 per cent more servers worldwide in the last three months than in the corresponding period last year, according to market research company Gartner, in spite of consolidation - and Sun shows a rare return to growth, while blade servers showed massive growth in Europe. However, big box sales remained static, while x86 server units went up.

In terms of who's winning, IBM remains ahead in the blade server market and overall by revenues at 28.6 per cent, slightly down on the previous year, with HP very close behind and up slightly at 28.0 per cent. HP does better in terms of hardware units shipped with top slot of 27.1 per cent, with Dell on 21.7 per cent and IBM trailing at 15 per cent. However, IBM ships more high-value products such as mainframes and Unix boxes than HP does.

As ever, the Unix server market remained pretty flat. “RISC-Itanium Unix servers fell just 0.9 percent in shipments for the quarter but dropped a more significant 5.1 percent in revenue. The decline at the high end and the replacement at the low end with Linux on x86 servers continue to put negative pressure on this portion of the market,” said Jeffrey Hewitt, Gartner research director.

Blades went in the opposite direction. “The blade segment of the market displayed strong growth again, with volumes increasing 46 per cent over the same period last year. IBM holds the leading market position in blade servers in volume and revenue terms”, said Hewitt. In Europe, blade server sales grew even more, up 49 per cent, which undoubtedly assisted blade market-leader IBM's overall figures.

However, a rare treat was in store for Sun, which showed revenue growth of 7.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2005, but leaves it in fourth place, just trailing third-placed Dell by 0.1 per cent.

The numbers overall are up, despite many server vendors reporting that customers are consolidating their server farms. This should imply that enterprises are buying fewer but more powerful machines, typically for the purposes of running more tasks using virtualisation technology on a single box. However, consolidation also implies a second server for disaster recovery reasons. In addition, many existing servers would be unable to cope with the kinds of loads a highly consolidated system would impose, again resulting in a boost to server sales.

"The x86 server portion of the market continues to be the strongest segment,” Hewitt said. “x86 servers remain as the leading server choice for meeting ongoing Web-related growth while other segments have started the year in a less-positive mode."