Microsoft puts spotlight on 64-bit Windows

Microsoft Corp. is clearing the fog around its move into 64-bit computing. At the Windows .Net Server DevCon conference in Seattle last week, Microsoft devoted much of its time to a new 64-bit Windows release and accompanying applications, which are due to reach customers early next year.

Historically associated with Unix operating systems, 64-bit systems are designed to run high-performance applications for use in scientific research, Web hosting and databases.

Microsoft is a relatively new entrant into the space. The Redmond, Wash., company released its first major 64-bit operating system, Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition, last year to work with Intel Corp.’s Itanium processors. That release so far has been adopted only by some high-end customers, according to Bob O’Brien, Microsoft group product manager for the Windows .Net Server division.

Now the company is working to make its 64-bit operating system a bigger player in its portfolio as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) make progress toward developing low-cost 64-bit processors. Early next year Microsoft will introduce the 64-bit Windows .Net Server 2003 Datacenter Edition. One way Microsoft is increasing its profile in the space is by releasing critical applications that are designed to run on that operating system, most notably its SQL Server database software.

“It’s the last nail in the coffin for why a customer would want to move off of Unix,” said Sheryl Tullis, product manager of Microsoft’s SQL Server group, during an interview Wednesday. A scalable database application is what many customers say they require in order to use Microsoft products deep in the enterprise, she said.

Microsoft released the first beta version of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition 64-bit in July, when Intel launched its Itanium 2 chip, and is expected to ship a final version in tandem with the release of Windows .Net Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, Tullis said.

Moving to Windows on Intel-based systems to run large database applications, as opposed to using Unix on hardware with RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) processors, has its advantages, according to at least one attendee here.

Dollar Rent A Car Systems Inc., one of Microsoft’s flagship early adopters of its .Net Web services technology, has tested the beta version of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition 64-bit. Dollar built a new front end for its reservation system using .Net Web services based on XML (Extensible Markup Language). The company also spent more than a month testing the 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000. It currently runs Oracle Corp.’s database software for Unix.

“I was blown away by the speed,” said Larry Scott, IT services manager at the Tulsa, Okla., car rental company. Comparing it to work he has done with 32-bit versions of Microsoft’s database, he said its ability to manage application memory was impressive.

“I think you can make a pretty strong business case – both in software licensing fees and hardware platform costs – that it’s going to be cheaper (than Oracle),” Scott said.

A server from Unisys Corp., running test versions of Microsoft’s 64-bit operating system and database software, was demonstrated here Wednesday. Steven Jones, director of program management at Unisys, demonstrated the system running side-by-side with a 32-bit version of the same software configuration. The 64-bit simulation was able to query the database more than 2,000 times per minute, compared to about 300 queries per minute on the 32-bit system.

Vendors of the Linux operating system also say they can offer affordable alternatives to Unix with their open source operating system and emerging 64-bit servers. Red Hat Inc. has committed to releasing a version of its operating system to run on Itanium 2-based servers as well as those with 64-bit chips from AMD. Red Hat has also worked closely with Oracle to make the vendor’s database software ready for Linux. Additionally, IBM Corp. is working on a version of its DB2 database software for Linux on AMD’s 64-bit chips.

Some customers working to migrate off of Unix systems are choosing Linux to make the move. That’s the case at Varian Inc., a maker of laboratory and medical equipment in Palo Alto, Calif. The company is planning to replace its 64-bit Unix server, used to run software from SAP AG, with Linux-based servers, according to Stewart Woodruff, a systems manager with Varian Medical Systems, a division of the company that manufactures medical devices.

“They’re definitely looking to go totally open source,” Woodruff said at the conference. “They want to get away from being too dependent on a single vendor.”

Meanwhile, Woodruff said his division will stick with Microsoft software, as he is looking forward to new innovations being promised with .Net. “We’re going to stay with Microsoft, because we’ve got so much invested in it,” he said.

Systems based on 64-bit chips have more addressable memory for applications than those based on 32-bit chips. However, some of Microsoft’s customers say they don’t have a need for the horsepower of 64-bit Windows, especially in its current state of development. Woodruff said he has yet to wade in the 64-bit Windows waters, mainly because his group doesn’t have any need for the processing power.

The same is true for Roy Vawter, senior section manager with manufacturing technology company Siemens Dematic AG, who also attended the Windows conference.

“We’ll definitely let somebody else blaze the path on that,” he said.