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System builder 64-bit opportunity centers on consolidation

While Microsoft has long touted server consolidation as one of the key drivers for users moving towards the company’s Windows Server 2003 and Exchange 2003, Derrick Wong, senior product manager for Windows Server System at Microsoft Canada, said that consolidation will be “taken to the next level” by the emergence of Windows Server enabled for x64 systems this year, combined with existing 64-/32-bit capable processors from both Intel and AMD.

“We were doing it already, but now, we can take it one step further with the same type of reliability and productivity that was there before, but far fewer boxes,” he said.

Shannon Poulion, director of enterprise platform marketing at Intel, said that 64-bit was natural for server consolidation because of the much larger addressable space, which in the past made inherently harder to run more applications on a single box. Because it’s easier to pack a single machine with memory — both physical and virtual — it’s a lot easier to run even applications that require higher performance, whether 64-bit or 32-bit code, on systems that run x64 servers.

“It’s just more comfortable for them to consolidate on a single box, and reduce the number of servers they need,” he said.

Indeed the hardware has been ready for some time, but Poulion said that the arrival of the first “volume operating system” that supports x64 processors, Microsoft’s x64-enabled versions of Windows for clients and servers, means that the stage is set for the “rapid conversion of the software base” to 64-bit. But both Microsoft and Intel said that the need to run 64-bit device drivers on 64-bit operating systems would play a limiting role, unless those device drivers are introduced in short order.

64-bit capable servers aren’t the exclusive territory of the big system vendors. Poulion noted that Intel sold over a million 64-bit Xeon processors in 2004, and already has shipped some 2.5 million such processors in 2005.

“We plan on exiting 2005 with 95 per cent plus of our server CPUs coming out the door 64-bit capable,” he said.

“You simply don’t reach that kind of volume of sales without getting the whole of our channel organization involved.”

Eddie Chan, research analyst for mobile and personal computing and technology at IDC Canada, said that with 64-bit going mainstream and the emergence of other technologies such as DDR2 and interconnect protocols like SATA, that performance guidelines are in place for the next few years.

“We’re moving beyond the good-enough computing mentality and moving in the right direction,” he said.

Still, while he notes that “64-bit on the server is a given,” he stressed that in the client space, it’s going to be a “much more phased approach,” with the first users moving to 64-bit hardware and operating systems likely to be users of highly-technical workstations and, of course, gamers.

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