Microsoft unlocks 64-bit computing for the masses

Windows and Intel's market entry will force down Unix prices for users.

Windows and Intel's market entry will force down Unix prices for users.

Early indications show that the combination of Microsoft's 64-bit SQL database server and Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor can beat almost all Unix database systems in outright performance and in cost per transaction.

Forthcoming products from Microsoft and Intel will make 64-bit computing affordable to smaller businesses, rather than just the reserve of big business and financial institutions. Further price pressure on Unix is expected as a result of a Microsoft tie-up with AMD, which has traditionally focused on the price-sensitive end of the PC market.

The launch is set to change the way users negotiate high-end computing contracts and radically reduce the cost of a range of enterprise applications. Similar commodity computing collapsed the price of desktop systems during the 1980s and 1990s.

Microsoft is planning to answer criticism of its database's performance with the release, on 24 April, of 64-bit SQL Server, which runs on a version of Windows 2003 designed for Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor.

Ian Brown, vice-president for research at Gartner, said, "The new high-end, scalable, partitionable Itanium-based servers will offer more of a challenge to Unix, and it means that users will have an alternative to a forced migration to Unix if they want scale."

NEC's Express 5800 server currently holds the number two slot in the Transaction Processing Performance Council benchmark for non-clustered servers. A $5.6m (£3.5m) Express 5800 configured with 32 1GHz Itanium II processors attained 433,100 transactions per minute running SQL Server and Windows 2003.

On the performance of the NEC hardware Richard Fichera, analyst at Forrester Research, recommended users benchmark comparable Itanium systems and use these figures to negotiate better deals with Unix suppliers.

Microsoft product manager Mitch Gatchalian, said, "In supply chain management, moving to 64-bit SQL Server will boost the performance of a 6Gbyte database." Users could improve the performance of their SAP supply chain simply by migrating data from their 32-bit SQL Server to the 64-bit product, he said.

Pressure on databases is set to increase as users deploy XML, which creates large databases that run more efficiently on 64-bit architectures, said Rob Hailstone, research director at IDC.

Do you really need 64-bit databases?   

  • 32-bit systems will be good enough for most applications
  • Large databases which use more than 4Gbytes of data run more efficiently on 64-bit systems 
  • If you need Unix database performance, TPC benchmarks show that Itanium 2, 64-bit servers allow SQL Server to scale to levels comparable with databases on high-end Unix system 
  • XML data produces large databases so a 64-bit architecture gives headroom for growth 
  • 64-bit SQL Server is designed for mainstream servers.

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