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European server sales sink to 4-year low: Cloud, software-defined and chip shortage blamed

Double-digit declines in Germany, UK, France and 15 other countries

Server sales across the European channel fell to their lowest level in four years over the third quarter of 2021, as the long-awaited recovery in infrastructure spending failed to show up – with shrinking volumes reported for 18 countries.

The numbers collated by Context show 91,021 servers were sold via distribution in calendar Q3, with hefty double-digit declines recorded in some of the largest countries that consume the systems. It is estimated Context captures up to 60 per cent of the total server market volumes in the region*.

"We were waiting for a rebound with recovery from COVID-19 but it looks like it is not happening for now," Gurvan Meyer, enterprise business analyst at Context told The Register.

The reasons? The pandemic has sped up customers switch to a hybrid IT environment, software defined infrastructure played a part too, and so did the ongoing supply chain wobbles.

Meyer said he believes that "infrastructure management has progressed impressively in the last two to three years, businesses have become more efficient in terms of using their hardware resources; there was quite a lot of over-provisioning in the past and IT teams have caught up."

Sales to end users in Germany slid 3.9 per cent year on year, they sank almost 26 per cent in the UK, and dropped 6.4 per cent in France.

Context also compared unit sales in Q3 2021 with those made in Q3 2019, before the pandemic began: Germany was down 30.3 per cent in those two years, the UK was down 24.6 per cent, and France was down 11.2 per cent. A further 15 countries reported double-digit drops in year-on-year comparison.

Meyer told us: "Some countries are more advanced in their digital transformation than others, and countries are structurally different (service economy in the UK versus industrial economy in Germany) and I tend to think that the rather soft market we see in the UK, for example, is down partly to the fact that the UK is slightly more advanced in terms of hybrid infrastructure than, let's say, Italy."

As for worldwide infrastructure-as-a-service spending, Canalys estimated Q3 expansion of 35 per cent to $49.9bn, with AWS, Microsoft and Google accounting for 61 per cent of the entire market. Yet even this corner of tech industry isn't immune to the crippling shortages affecting multiple industries.

"Overall computer demand is outgrowing chip manufacturing capabilities, and infrastructure expansion may become limited for the cloud service providers," said Blake Murray, research analyst.

We asked the market watcher for European-specific stats but it seems they are not yet at a stage to be made public.

Canalys said the impact of the global chip shortages on the cloud giants is "imminent" as data centre component makers are seeing lead times extended and prices rising. Just last week, for example, data centre networking outfit Arista said the lead times to secure certain parts were stretching to 80 weeks.

Glenn O'Donnell, veep and research director at Forrester, said the auto industry has become the poster child for chip shortages.

"The impact extends far beyond autos — home appliances, consumer electronics, medical devices, farm equipment, and even toys are all affected. It is hitting corporate IT hard, as data centre equipment, cloud services, PC, and even Apple struggle to get these essential parts," he said.

Computacenter, one of Europe's largest resellers, said in September that customers were recommencing projects but that getting hold of enough kit was the issue, not demand.

"The ongoing supply shortages in the industry has risen to the top of our challenges," said colourful CEO Mike Norris. ®

* Some customers – including trade clients – buy servers direct and do not use distribution, so their figures aren't tracked by Context.

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