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However, while server shipments showed signs of stabilising, there are no signs of the dramatic growth that marked the late 1990s as the worldwide economy continues to limp along, said market research firm Dataquest.
The acquisition of Compaq Computer allowed HP to vault into the lead for worldwide server shipments. The combined company shipped 1.39 million servers in 2002, 30% of the worldwide market. Dell's 851,227 shipments represented 18.5% of the market.
Dell posted the largest year-on-year increase, with shipments growing 19.3% from 2001. The combined HP/Compaq actually lost ground as combined shipments slipped 4.6%.
IBM's servers lost a little ground in 2002 as shipments dropped 1.3% to 657,895 units. Sun Microsystems' shipments increased 6.7% to 277,300 units.
One of the strongest performing segments was the white-box server category which accounted for 29% of all servers shipped in 2002, second only to HP.
The numbers take into account servers built using processors from Intel and Risc (reduced instruction set computing) processors such as Sun's Sparc or IBM's Power4.
Risc servers generate more revenue for suppliers than Intel-based systems, but about 87% of all servers in the market today are based on Intel chips. Dataquest predicted in November that revenue from Intel servers would exceed revenue from Risc servers for the first time in 2003.
Overall server shipments to the US grew 13.8%, but revenue growth did not follow suit, Dataquest said. This means the shipment growth is taking place among less-expensive systems, and the market is still stagnant.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa saw an increase in server demand in December, but it was not enough to make up for a difficult year. Revenue is expected to decline in that region, which is also true for Latin America, the company said. Asia-Pacific shipments are growing, but the outlook for 2003 is still uncertain.