A 64-bit platform still under construction
The super-size editions of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 are hindered by missing pieces
Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 for 64-bit Itanium systems promise huge performance gains over their 32-bit counterparts, and they deliver on that promise. But there are many other factors to consider when upgrading to a new platform, such as whether you can run old applications as is and manage them in the same familiar way.
It’s not necessary for any piece of software to be completely compatible with all of its predecessors, but it is necessary for an upgrade’s benefits to be far greater than those gained by staying on the current platform. This weighing of benefits was the focus of my tests of 64-bit Windows and SQL Server. What would I gain by porting to this new platform? And what would I lose?
In Windows, I expected to see full compatibility with Active Directory, the .Net Framework, file/OS recovery, the entire OS feature set, and a tremendous increase in performance. In SQL Server, I expected to see the advertised fully backward-compatible T-SQL (Transact-SQL) code, a superior performance increase from increased memory, and the entire set of features and management tools I’ve been using in the 32-bit version.
In both cases, I found the performance gains I was looking for, but neither product delivered all the goods. Both Windows and SQL Server are missing important features that severely limit their usefulness. In its current state, 64-bit Windows presents a viable alternative to the 32-bit platform only in a few narrow circumstances.
Getting Windows Server 2003 installed is extremely easy; I didn’t encounter any surprises. Management is relatively easy, as well. All of the management features found in the 32-bit version are available in this version. And the two versions interoperate very well, so having only one or two 64-bit boxes in your organization shouldn’t cause any problems.
The 64-bit architecture provides a theoretical memory address space of 18 exabytes (18 billion gigabytes). In the real world, though, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition is limited to 64GB of memory, and it can support up to eight processors. If you need even more horsepower, then Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition supports up to 512GB of memory and 64 processors. This means that 64-bit Windows is extremely scalable, and most customers will reach practical limits long before they reach the physical limits built into the software.
Even the 32-bit version of Windows Server 2003 improves greatly on the file and print services of Windows 2000, and it is not necessary to port to the 64-bit platform to see some dramatic improvements in this area. However, a good deal of file and print server performance depends on CPU, bus speed, and the amount of memory the system has to serve requests. By taking advantage of more capable hardware, 64-bit Windows can provide a significant performance boost here.
Microsoft hit a home run with SCR (Shadow Copy Restore) and ASR (Automated System Recovery) in the original Windows Server 2003, and these features also work flawlessly in the 64-bit version. SCR allows administrators to take a ghost image of an entire system in order to recover after a major system failure. ASR allows admins to take snapshots of disk partitions and puts restores in the hands of users, who can revert back to previous versions of their files with a couple clicks.