Does that mean we’ll see a mass migration to 64-bit databases? “As usual, most enterprise customers will probably take a very cautious approach,” says Al Gillen, research director for system software at IDC. “Most won’t rush in unless they absolutely have to for performance and scalability reasons, especially if it’s a deep software stack on top of the operating system. They’ll be too concerned about software incompatibilities.” Gillen adds that many will wait for Longhorn to make the 64-bit transition and kill two birds with one stone.
But Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood disagrees. “There’s always that initial reluctance, but the payoff is humongous, especially if you look at Oracle and IBM pricing schemes,” he says. “If you can run the same workload on a dozen 64-bit processors that takes 50 or 100 processors on a 32-bit machine, you’ll be highly motivated."
Another category that can benefit significantly from all that memory is thin client computing using solutions such as Citrix Presentation Server or Microsoft Terminal Services, which require a certain allocation of memory per user. “You can get 170 percent more Terminal Services users on a single server with Windows 2003 Server x64 than you can with 32-bit Windows,” says Bob Kelly, general manager of infrastructure server marketing at Microsoft. Citrix similarly estimates the benefit as anywhere from 65 to 300 percent more users as 32-bit versions of Presentation Server.
Microsoft and AMD point to another database-centric category: messaging. "Many organizations don’t like to run lots of Exchange users on a single server, but if you do, a 64-bit platform makes a lot of sense,” says Margaret Lewis, AMD’s commercial marketing strategist.
Microsoft’s Kelly agrees. “There’s a real benefit [to 64-bit computing] in Exchange in terms of being able to consolidate servers and mailboxes. It’s also easier to give end-users much larger mailboxes,” he says.
In fact, Microsoft is forcing the issue. Its upcoming Exchange Server 12 will be available only in a 64-bit version, as will Windows Compute Cluster 2003.
The other principal benefit to the new generation of 64-bit processors is that they add eight additional general-purpose registers to the x86 design, for a total of 16. All of the general-purpose registers have also been upgraded from a width of 32 bits to 64 bits. In addition, there are also eight new 128-bit registers, called XMM registers.
Again, for applications and tasks that are not register-intensive, this is not particularly relevant. What is? “Anything graphic intensive, such as modeling applications for financial markets and the aeronautics industry,” says Red Hat’s Carr. Add technical applications, including high-performance design, 3-D animation, mechanical CAD/CAE, 3-D rendering, and high-end digital video editing to the list. Many of these applications also use large data sets and would benefit significantly from the extra memory addressing.
Digital media management company Agnostic Media has increased media transcoding performance 40 percent following a move to 64-bit Opteron systems. They’ve also seen a 200 percent performance increase for database transactions after moving from Microsoft SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005, according to CEO Jason Turner.