Teams Forming for 64-Bit Migration

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Next year will see a metamorphosis in computer architecture, as enterprises worldwide switch from 32-bit to 64-bit processing, a report by investment research firm American Technology Research predicts Alliances between hardware and software vendors will help spur migration from 32-bit processors in 2004, an American Technology Research report predicts.

Although the two largest chipset manufacturers plan to roll out 64-bit enabled processors in 2004 -- Advanced Micro Device's (AMD's) Opteron and Intel's Itanium -- the report said it's going to take a team effort to convince mainstream enterprises to migrate 32-bit-based systems to the new technology.

By expanding on 4 GB memory limitations in 32-bit computing, 64-bit processing has the capability to increase performance in many of today's memory-hungry applications, from databases to 3D rendering in CAD systems to Web services.

The architecture is also particularly suited for computing needs of engineering and scientific projects, financial services, online transaction processing, and data warehousing.

Mark Stahlman, senior analyst for American Technology Research and the author of a 64-bit computing report, dubbed a FAQ for investors, noted that three distinct teams are forming up to develop an allied, end-to-end migration scheme for potential customers.

Call it a who's who list of all-star players in the business computing world. Based on Stahlman's report, "Blue Team" members are IBM, Cisco, AMD, and Sony.

Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell make up the "Red Team." Team captains for Stahlman's "Green Team" are Sun and Oracle.

The last technology migration of this scope happened back in the mid-1980s and 1990s, when the computer world migrated from 16-bit to 32-bit processors; at the time, the architecture of choice was Intel's x86.

Companies are mixed on which technology is best for migration from current systems to 64-bit processors. Although Intel created the x86 architecture, it is primarily supporting the Itanium technology it created with HP, called Intel Architecture-64 (IA-64), or Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC). Many other vendors are backing an extension to the x86 architecture, called x86-64.

Stahlman believes the x86-64 technology will have more play with businesses. IA-64 works best with software and hardware created for 64-bit computing, he wrote, while x86-64 works with both 32- and 64-bit environments efficiently. With Itanium in a 32-bit environment, it needs to break up data into two, 32-bit blocks to make computations and then translate it back into a 64-bit block, which creates performance lags.

Some vendpors are hedging their bets and putting their products on both technologies. Microsoft, for example, launched a beta in September for Windows XP support of 64-bit Extended Systems, including those based on AMD's Opteron 64-bit processor workstations and AMD Athlon 64 desktops. It is also developing IA-64 on its next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn.

IBM is supporting both the Itanium in certain server lines and x86-64 in others.

The stakes involved with the migration will be in the billions of dollars during the next couple of decades for vendors that will be key suppliers for business infrastructure platforms during that time. Stahlman's report also said as many as 1 million x86-64 servers may be sold in 2004, and 5 million desktop computers. By 2005, that number should reach 3 million and 50 million, respectively.

Regarding 64-bit market share within the server industry, he points to research by IDC, which predicts 5 million x86 server (32- and 64-bit) units to be sold in 2004. Intel, with its investment in IA-64, plans to release x86-64 processors next year.

Stahlman also noted that Sun and IBM could reap the biggest rewards in the 64-bit world of tomorrow, given the aggressive sales and marketing efforts the two companies have put forth to date.

"Specifically regarding the rapid adoption of x86-64 products in 2004/05, we believe that those vendors who have most aggressively embraced this market are likely to have the opportunity for share gains," he wrote. "In particular, we note that Sun Microsystems and IBM are the most aggressive and best positioned server vendors in this emerging x86-64 market."

AMD has also positioned itself aggressively as of late, with 64-bit processing awareness. Earlier this year, it announced a new logo program to compete with Intel's popular "Intel Inside" slogan.

Stahlman's report is somewhat aggressive on the migration timetable compared to other analysts' calls on the 64-bit migration timetable. For example, Gartner Dataquest, has said 64-bit systems will become more of a necessity by 2005, as applications thirst for memory systems larger than 32-bit can handle, and that 64-bit systems will become mainstream by 2007.

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

This article was originally published on Dec 23, 2003
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