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The market for big-ticket server software is going the way pork bellies and other commodities once did: Prices are going down.

The overall market for infrastructure software needed to run business applications grew in 2004 by nearly 6 percent compared with the previous year, to $6.7 billon, according to market research company Gartner, which released its results Tuesday.

Gartner analyst Joanne Correia forecast that the segment will continue to grow at a "slow but positive" pace--in the low single digits--for the coming years, as corporate customers invest in integrating their existing systems or building new applications.

But despite the uptick in spending, providers of infrastructure software are facing more price pressure in an already highly competitive market. The culprits are discounts on product bundles by larger vendors and the effect of open-source products.

"There's more activity, there are more projects going on, but the price somebody is paying for this, compared to three years ago, is 15, 20, 30 percent less," Correia said. "And the value of what's in an application server today versus 2000 is huge."

The Gartner study tallied new license sales of server software worldwide, including Web portals, application servers and integration software, but did not include corporate databases.

This back-end "middleware" is expected to be one of the most contentious battlegrounds in the coming years as corporate customers spend on upgrading their infrastructure to be more flexible and cost-effective.

Instead of offering individual components, such as application servers, software makers have assembled suites that include tools to tie together existing systems and serve up Web pages to end users. "This is the real battleground moving forward," Correia said.


Results from 2004 indicate that IBM and Microsoft both made middleware market share gains, according to Gartner.

Oracle also saw its market share grow, while BEA--once the market leader in application servers--saw its share slip for the second straight year.

In the category of application platform suites, IBM has the lead with 26.8 percent, up from 23.5 percent in 2003. The figures for all providers include sales on both mainframe servers as well as other operating systems.

BEA retains the second-place title in the segment with 12.4 percent, the same as 2003. BEA, which suffered declining license sales in 2004, along with the departure of some of its top technical executives, saw its new license revenue shrink 3 percent.

Oracle had 8.3 percent share, besting its 2003 showing of 7.3 percent.

Revenue for Microsoft's application platform suites--which represents sales of its SharePoint portal server and BizTalk integration product--more than doubled to $176 million, or 5 percent share.

Por Martin LaMonica, da ZDNet.

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