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Shipments of computer servers fell in the first quarter of 2002 for the first time in four years on a quantitative basis, a market research agency said Wednesday.

The flagging economy affected demand from corporate users, sending shipments in the January-March quarter skidding 5.7 percent from a year earlier to 122,416, with the percentage fall signifying a drop of 7,400, according to Gartner Japan Ltd., the Japanese affiliate of GartnerGroup Inc. of the United States.

The 5.7 percent decline marked the sharpest decline since the second quarter of 1998, when server shipments saw a 6.6 percent year-on-year drop, in the wake of the Asian currency crisis.

On a value basis, first-quarter shipments plunged 18.2 percent to 219.1 billion yen, sharper than the 15.1 percent fall logged in the fourth quarter of 1999, when shipments took a blow from the “Year 2000” computer-glitch scare.

Tadaaki Mataga, the agency’s senior analyst in charge of the server market, said, “The domestic server market has taken greater-than-expected blows from the slumping economy, and the shipment fall attests to the fact that corporate demand for information technology equipment is on the decline.”

Gartner attributed the year-on-year quantitative decline to the lack of sizable orders such as the ones received by IBM Japan Ltd. a year earlier.

Had IBM, which has been enjoying great success with its Linux/Intel architecture, not received such large orders, a simple year-on-year comparison in shipments by all makers between the first quarters of 2001 and 2002 would have instead shown a 0.1 percent quantitative expansion, it said.

Nevertheless, it added, the 0.1 percent growth would have represented the slowest shipment expansion since 1998.

Japan’s server market showed record year-on-year growth of 43.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000, but it has since followed a downward trend due partly to the rupture of the information technology boom in the U.S.

Foreign server makers — including Compaq Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. — took especially harsh blows from the year-on-year shipment decline in the January-March period in Japan, Gartner noted.

This is because their Japanese rivals, including NEC Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd., were buttressed by sizable public-sector orders through the government’s so-called e-Japan program, it added.

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