Longhorn For Itanium: High-End Only

Microsoft clarified its strategy for Longhorn server on Itanium-based systems, saying it would focus on “big iron” applications.

The upcoming version of Microsoft Windows Server, still code-named Longhorn, is designed for Intel Itanium-based servers, will be optimized for three workloads, the company said on Friday.

The next-generation version of the server software designed for Intel’s high-end Itanium chips is designed specifically for database workloads and custom and line-of-business applications. Microsoft said that’s consistent with how the majority of current Windows Server on Itanium customers are using it.

Longhorn Server will be compatible with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, which is expected by the end of 2006. Microsoft hopes to deliver the server product in 2007.

“Microsoft wanted to clarify which pieces of Longhorn Server would be ported to the Itanium processor family version, and which would not,” said Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. “They’ve obviously left out the pieces that apply primarily to clients and/or small servers. They did not want customers and the media to read this as backing away from the Itanium version.”

The server software running on Itanium-based systems will not support Windows Media Services, Windows SharePoint Services, and more mundane tasks such as fax, file and print serving. It will support some client-side functionality for administration, management, and server utilities.

Brookwood said the news wasn’t unexpected, but it was important for Microsoft to clarify this before the upcoming Professional Developers Conference later this month.

“They haven’t said much about what would be in Longhorn Server for Itanium,” Brookwood said. “You might have thought it would have everything that the x86 version would have. It won’t.”

Microsoft announced in April that it would support Itanium for Longhorn Server. The two companies hope the product can take a chunk of the market share from RISC-based Unix servers.

Brookwood said the Itanium chip is finding its niche in the market, which is as a RISC-replacement environment for “big iron” applications: servers that sell for $50,000 or more. “Neither Intel nor Microsoft wants to invest substantial resources in doing something that won’t fit with that new niche,” Brookwood said.

The new Windows Server product will align with only two types of chips: Intel’s Itanium Montecito processor, a dual-core 64-bit chip built using an Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) architecture and 90-nanometer technology, which is expected to ship this year; and x86 64-bit compatible processors, which Microsoft broadly categorizes as x64 chips. Those chips include Intel’s 64-bit Xeon and Pentium families, as well as AMD Opteron processors.

According to IT research firm IDC, server sales are on an upswing that’s fueled, in part, by demand for new 64-bit, dual-core systems. In an August 2005 report, IDC said x86 server sales grew 15.1 percent to $5.7 billion worldwide in the second quarter of the year.

Windows servers sales grew 14.3 percent and unit shipments grew 10.9 percent. The quarterly revenue of $4.1 billion for Windows servers represented 33.5 percent of overall quarterly factory revenue.

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