Service provider takeaway: Service providers have five good reasons to convince their customers to get on the 64-bit Windows bandwagon.
A lot has been made of Microsoft's subdued entrance to the world of 64-bit computing. In 2005, the company launched 64-bit-compatible versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, and just a few weeks ago, it released Windows Server 2008 in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Windows Vista has also been available for about a year in both flavors.
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While mathematically, 64 is always going to be double 32, that explanation won't win you any customer sales -- and it might even lose you some. You'll need to dig just a little deeper to find the tangible benefits your clients can expect to see from Microsoft's investment in 64-bit technology. Here are a few of them:
- It enables much bigger databases. Data generated in the course of day-to-day activities is growing by leaps and bounds, especially as e-commerce becomes even more popular. You've probably encountered businesses with millions upon millions of rows in their data warehouses, filled with catalog data, sales information, business history and so on. With the additional memory addressing capabilities on 64-bit platforms, Windows Server 2008 can access databases of several gigabytes or more very quickly and efficiently. Indeed, SQL Server 2005 is one of the most significant beneficiaries of a 64-bit platform. This is due partly to the more efficient processing that's enabled by the use of today's x64-compatible processors and partly to the nature of memory addressing -- we'll cover that point in a bit.
- Applications crunching a lot of numbers or data, like a compute cluster or an encryption host, will see an improved performance from 64-bit platforms. For instance, customers that deal a lot in SSL certificate handling and generation will see their tasks finish faster. You could also make a case for virtualization being a very processor- and memory-intensive application, and of course using VMware, Microsoft's Hyper-V or any other virtualization platform on 64-bit hardware will make for a better experience.
- Some line-of-business applications are moving to 64-bit platforms exclusively. For example, Microsoft indicates that the development team for Exchange 2007 realized significant performance gains when moving the production version of the code base to x64 machines -- so much so that the only supported production version of the product is the 64-bit one. While there is a 32-bit version of Exchange 2007 floating about, it's not supported for use in a normal environment. Microsoft's lack of support for a 32-bit version of Exchange 2007 should be interpreted as a clear signal that your customers could be forced to run 64-bit hardware at the time of their next upgrade.
- Any machine with more than 4 GB of RAM is a very viable platform for an x64-based operating system. This is because 32-bit processors are inherently limited from reading and storing data in memory locations past the 3 GB barrier. You can see this on a desktop level: If you purchase a machine with 4 GB of RAM and then install a 32-bit edition of Windows XP or Windows Vista, when you look at the "System properties" screen, you'll find that Windows can only "see" 3 GB. (This info will help you head off the frustrated support calls from customers thinking you sold them less than they paid for.) Obviously, 4 GB of RAM seems like a lot now, but as machines get bigger and better components, that amount will become standard.
- The next version of Windows Server will be available only for 64-bit computers. While the same determination has not yet been made for the client operating systems, going forward, all new versions of Windows Server will be compatible only with x64 systems. You should prepare your customers now, especially since 64-bit-capable hardware is widely, and affordably, available.
About the author
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.