Longhorn Server to Align With Itanium

UPDATED: Microsoft and Intel chat up their x86 and EPIC-based high-end strategy.

UPDATED: Though it won't debut for at least two more years, Microsoft will support Intel's Itanium for Longhorn Server, the company said today.

The two companies are evangelizing Microsoft's next-generation Windows server product family for Itanium as an alternative to RISC/UNIX servers. Longhorn Server is expected to ship in 2007. The 64-bit operating system is being designed as a high-end complement for the Windows Longhorn desktop version. The server edition is better designed to handle scale-up database and other business applications, Microsoft said.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server division, said the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is timing its full release to align with only two types of chips: Intel's Itanium Montecito processor, a dual core 64-bit chip built using an Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) architecture and 90-nanometer technology, which is expected to ship this year; and x86 64-bit compatible processors, which Microsoft broadly categorizes as x64 chips.

The list includes Intel's 64-bit Xeon and Pentium families, as well as AMD Opteron processors. Muglia is, however, currently focused on the prospects of Itanium.

"In the 'Longhorn'-server timeframe, there are more opportunities to consolidate target workloads onto Windows- and Itanium-based systems," Muglia said as part of a Microsoft-sponsored interview. "We're working with our partners to deploy more than 1,000 Itanium 2-based systems in our labs for 'Longhorn'-server test and development."

Microsoft is preparing to highlight its Windows/Itanium relationship at its WinHEC conference in Seattle later this month. Founder and chief architect Bill Gates is expected to announce availability of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and its Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. The Server 2003 version is expected to ship in three versions (Standard, Enterprise and Data Center), with support for one to 64 processors. The Professional edition is expected to support up to 128GB of memory and up to 16 terabytes of virtual memory. All versions went gold on March 30th.

Later this year, Muglia said Microsoft would expand Itanium support to Visual Studio 2005, .NET Framework 2005 and SQL Server 2005, code name Yukon. Microsoft and Intel said they would also continue to support client-side functionality of Itanium-based systems in order to improve administration, management and backup, and integration with Active Directory and certificates.

According to Microsoft and Intel estimates, 2005 will be the year when, for the first time, the vast majority of new server hardware and high-end workstation shipments will be 64-bit capable, though the two companies are still priming the pump for ISVs and developers.

Abhi Talwalkar, vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said in a statement that 64-bit computing for the Intel-based server market is in its infancy. "[It] won't go mainstream until there are volume shipments of Windows Server 2003 x64 editions and the developer/ISV community has had time to develop drivers and applications for Windows."

Microsoft has made an extensive investment in Itanium-based servers over the years to support ongoing development, testing and certification, even though it abandoned plans to develop Windows XP for workstations running on Intel's Itanium.

"Itanium is being pitched these days as a RISC and mainframe alternative, an area where x86 has never been particularly strong," Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with IT research firm Illuminata, told internetnews.com.

"Thus, Microsoft doubtless sees Itanium as possibly helping it gain more high-end, mission-critical wins for Windows and, especially, SQL Server that it's had in the past. But Microsoft has no special love for Itanium. If customers end up primarily embracing high-end EM64T instead of Itanium, Microsoft is just as happy to go that route.

Mark Stahlman, a managing director of research at Caris & Company, told internetnews.com that Microsoft is focused on x86 and this Itanium discussion is partly its way of answering the obvious question, 'When are you porting Windows to the [IBM] Power architecture -- other than on the Xbox 360, of course?'"

In a related note, Microsoft said the next major release of its Microsoft Exchange Server, codenamed E12, will be available for x86 32-bit and 64-bit systems. The large address space available on x64 systems will support more Exchange databases per server and the large caches will help optimize disk I/O, the company said.

Currently, the majority of e-mail servers run on 32-bit, Intel x86 servers with four or fewer processors.

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