The dramatic changes in the 64-bit computing landscape over the past few weeks have left users in the volume server space with something they had little of before last month: choice.
Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., added to that last week when it unveiled its long-expected plans to offer a line of ProLiant servers powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron processor starting this month. Coupled with announcements last month by Intel Corp. that it will add 64-bit extensions to its Xeon processors and Sun Microsystems Inc.s rollout of its Opteron-based systems, HPs decision greatly broadens users options as they plan their eventual move to 64-bit computing.
Sixty-four-bit computing is already commonplace using RISC-based processors. In the volume server world, the only real alternative has been Intels Itanium, an architecture separate from x86.
Within the next few months, users in the x86 volume space will have a growing number of Xeon- and Opteron-based options from all the top OEMs that will run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H., said that for the next year or two, 64-bit computing will be used mainly in larger corporations and for high-performance computing applications. But as mainstream applications start rubbing up against the memory limitations of 32-bit processors and as memory-hungry technologies such as virtualization grow, enterprises will begin turning toward 64-bit extended systems.
For Townsend Analytics Ltd., a financial services software developer that has several hundred HP ProLiant servers in its data center, the 64-bit extensions offered by the Opteron and the upcoming Xeons give the Chicago company the flexibility it needs. Developers at Townsend twice looked at Itanium systems over the past three years but decided against them, questioning the amount of operating system support and whether they wanted to be tied to a single architecture.
"It actually gives us what we ideally wanted in the first place, which is to get to the point where we can take advantage of the high speed and high memory [of 64-bit computing] and get better performance out of our current [32-bit] applications," said Jason Weil, Townsends head of software development.