Application vendors ponder a port

Software vendors are eyeing the 64-bit Linux market, but show no signs of jumping in

When will mainstream business applications come to 64-bit Linux on commodity hardware? Next month, next year, or maybe never, depending on whom you talk to. With the notable exception of enterprise software vendor SAP, based in Germany, most major software vendors are watching the 64-bit Linux market unexcitedly and refusing to speculate as to when they plan to jump in. If SAP is any indication, they’ll most likely jump on Itanium first.

“It’s very important for us to have a business case before we move forward and commit to porting to another platform du jour,” says Jim Metcalf, director of foundation technology strategy at the SAS Institute, the Cary, N.C., maker of BI software. “Our view is that it’s still early days for this market. ... We are not getting a lot of customers that are asking for 64-bit Linux running on the Itanium chip.”

And this despite the fact that SAS already has a 32-bit Linux offering and that analytics applications are prime candidates to take advantage of the extra capacity that 64-bit Linux and Intel’s Itanium chip would offer. “You’ve got a tremendous amount of memory address space [with 64-bit Linux] that you can use when it comes to crunching the big problems,” Metcalf notes, adding that making real-time BI queries against large in-memory databases could be one of the more compelling uses of 64-bit Linux on Itanium.

So when will SAS jump on the 64-bit Linux bandwagon? “If we start to see the Oracles and SAPs, the ERP and database vendors, move in and run natively on these platforms, we’ll work in conjunction with them,” Metcalf explains. “It’s a chicken and egg thing.”

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PeopleSoft, based in Pleasanton, Calif., plans to port its business applications to 32-bit versions of the Linux OS on both Intel and IBM hardware, but it has not announced any plans to port to 64-bit Linux on Itanium or Opteron, according to Technology Product Manager David Sayed. “Customers are saying, yes, the time is right for mission-critical applications on Linux,” he says. But the main areas in which he’s seen

64-bit uptake are database servers, and scientific and engineering applications that require large amounts of number crunching.

Although Oracle is not yet porting its applications to 64-bit Linux, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company has decided to lead with its database server (as has IBM with DB2). “Our approach will be a staged one,” says Oracle Applications Vice President Greg Seiden. “The first to go to 64-bit will be the database; that’s where we see the greatest benefit in the near term.” Why? He points to a larger address space and more headroom on the database side, which will enable more concurrent users.

Seiden predicts that Oracle’s next major application release will be a 64-bit Linux product. “We’re watching the market to see what the adoption is going to be, the price point of [commodity] 64-bit hardware, and so on,” he explains. He notes that a 64-bit set of Oracle’s applications would actually be a new build, not a migration, and says he thinks major business applications will not appear on 64-bit Linux and Itanium until 2005. “I don’t see anybody jumping into porting to 64-bit Linux,” he says, possibly because 32-bit Linux works well. “We’re very fond of Linux,” he adds. “The performance we have on the 32-bit Linux platform is fabulous.”

Unlike its competitors, SAP has decided to go full speed ahead on porting all its applications to 64-bit Linux on Itanium, but is awaiting interest from hardware partners IBM, HP, and Dell before committing to Opteron, according to Manfred Stein, the company’s Linux lab and Unix platform product manager. The development effort, which began three years ago, has resulted in a phased rollout of products for the new platform this year, starting with 64-bit R3 ERP, with customers currently in production, and the addition of products such as CRM, business warehouse, and SCM (supply-chain management) solutions this fall. “By the end of the year, we will have the whole product line available” for 64-bit Linux on Itanium, he says.

Stein says SAP sees key performance advantages to the 64-bit Linux platform, including simpler administration, because the SAP applications can take advantage of more physical memory. At most, 32-bit Linux applications can use 2GB to 3GB of memory, he explains, which means you can only give 10MB each to 300 or 400 users firing on one server. By contrast, the 64-bit Linux kernel can support up to 64GB of memory, which makes large batch jobs such as end-of-month invoicing and data analysis much more manageable. “You’re doing the work of thousands of users at the same time,” he explains. “This enables us to run much larger jobs ... you simply have no limitations there anymore.”

Stein says SAP hopes to make 64-bit Linux on Itanium a mainstream platform in two or three years. He notes that it only took three years from the time SAP introduced 64-bit apps on Unix in 1999 until it announced it was dropping 32-bit Unix support in 2002. If customers buy 64-bit Intel-based hardware in bigger batches next year, he says, 64-bit will be the only Intel Linux platform SAP will be supporting in three to four years.

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