For some time now, corporate IT managers have been eyeing the possibilities of breaking the 32-bit barrier and running applications on faster 64-bit hardware, as well as scaling to the higher memory address space in x86 infrastructures.
Those possibilities expanded in 2004: I saw an impressive number of 64-bit x86 server systems that embraced Intels new processors and chip sets based on EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology).
However, while server vendors scrambled to outdo one another with 64-bit rack-optimized and blade servers, the number of 64-bit applications this year remained scarce.
Fortunately, the 64-bit application outlook for next year is brighter. Microsoft is planning to release 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server in early 2005. For developers, 64-bit .Net Framework and Visual Studio 2005 will also be available early next year.
Virtually big business
Server virtualization and consolidation technologies continued to be big this year, as large companies kept looking for ways to improve resource utilization and save costs in their data center real estate. Robust, manageable virtualization technology is the answer. The industry is not quite there yet, but I believe its moving in the right direction, with new products and interesting virtual machine implementations.
One of the more notable virtualization products I reviewed this year was VMwares VirtualCenter. VirtualCenter provides centralized virtual machine management and control, and VMwares Vmotion technology lets IT managers move mission-critical applications from one virtual device to another in real time, with no data lost. Vmotion requires careful installation and has some latency. Nevertheless, VMware is paving the way for the development of advanced virtualization technologies.
Microsoft took a stab at the virtualized world this fall when it released Virtual Server 2005 for Windows. Although not as advanced as VMwares offerings and confined to Windows environments, Virtual Server 2005 is an inexpensive option for easy virtual machine deployments.
Blade servers, an important part of many enterprise infrastructures, were retrofitted this year with more powerful CPUs, enabling them to hold more memory and storage per blade. High-end platforms such as IBMs BladeCenter, Hewlett-Packards ProLiant BL p-class and RLX Technologies ServerBlades were enhanced significantly this year. IBM and HP have incorporated 64-bit processors and chip sets into their blades, allowing these systems to run more advanced applications.
RLX didnt release a 64-bit blade system in 2004, but Control Tower 6G continued to raise the bar in blade management. I will continue to follow RLX as the company releases 64-bit blades next year.
As we move into 2005, I expect more advanced multicore processor technologies to emerge in the Unix server space. Sun has big plans with its CMT processor road map; future iterations of the UltraSPARC will be capable of 10 times the performance of current offerings.
Next year and beyond, Unix systems will scale not only by the number of CPUs but also by the number of cores.
Suns Solaris 10 operating system (currently in beta and slated for release next year) also takes advantage of multicore processors and offers advanced capabilities such as Solaris Containers, which provide flexible, robust resource allocation.
Technical Analyst Francis Chu has been with eWEEK Labs since 1999. Francis covers enterprise server systems, systems management, utility computing, performance-testing tools, appliances, server virtualization and desktop security. He has recently conducted evaluations of Web application testing tools, Xeon-based blade server systems, 64-bit computing and server virtualization technologies.