Microsoft server software to go 64-bit only

In a speech at a supercomputing conference held today in Seattle, Bill Gates announced that future versions of some of Microsoft’s server products, including the new Windows for Clusters, Longhorn Server and Exchange 12, will only be available for 64-bit x86 processors.

Exchange Server 12 is expected to be released in late 2006, although that date may end up being pushed back. Longhorn Server is due for release in 2007, after the client version of Windows Vista. In addition, the small business edition of Longhorn Server, as well as Microsoft’s Centro mid-market software bundle, will also be getting the 64-bit treatment. While the idea of Longhorn Server products being released for 64-bit exclusively has been rumored for quite some time, this is the first official confirmation from Microsoft.

Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia released this statement about the company’s server strategy:


We are making big bets on 64-bit technology and working closely with our industry partners to enable a smooth transition for customers, so they can begin to realize the benefits of mainstream 64-bit computing.

While Bob Kelly, General Manager of infrastructure server marketing, noted the advantages for Exchange administrators:


IT professionals will be able to consolidate the total number of servers running 64-bit (processors) and users will be able to have bigger mailbox size.

Although the company has not completely ruled out the idea of making a separate version of Longhorn Server for 32-bit processors, the push for 64-bit computing is clear. While a 32-bit CPU has an address space limitation of 232 bits, or 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 64-bit CPU can directly address over 18 million terabytes of memory, without using any kind of bank-switching techniques. High end UNIX servers and workstations have been using 64-bit CPUs for many years now. MIPS released the first 64-bit workstation CPU in 1991, which was eventually used in SGI machines, DEC followed with its Alpha CPU and workstation in 1992, and Sun released their 64-bit UltraSparc in 1996. In the x86 world, however, it has been a slower road to 64 bits. Intel originally intended to migrate high-end server users from 32-bit x86 to 64-bit Itanium, but this has been somewhat less than successful. AMD introduced the first 64-bit x86 chip with the Opteron in 2003, forcing Intel to copy the design for their high-end CPUs.

The real question is whether Microsoft forcing the issue on 64 bit x86 servers will push the widespread adoption of these machines, or whether the company will be forced to relent and release 32-bit versions of Longhorn Server and other products in the face of customer demand. Does Microsoft have the power to move users to the next generation of hardware? Or will 64-bit x86 chips be so common in 2007 that it won’t matter?


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