Teams Forming for 64-Bit Migration

Next year is going to see a metamorphosis in computer architecture, as companies throughout the world switch from 32-bit to 64-bit processing, according to a report by
investment research firm American Technology Research.

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

By expanding on 4 GB memory limitations in 32-bit computing,
64-bit processing has the ability 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 companies 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 represent billions of
dollars over the next couple decades for vendors who will
be key suppliers for business infrastructure platforms during that
time. Stahlman’s report also said as many as one million x86-64 servers could be sold in 2004, and five million desktop computers. By 2005, that number should reach three million and 50 million, respectively.

Regarding 64-bit market share within the server industry, he points to research
by IDC, which predicts five 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 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, Dataquest, a division of research firm Gartner , 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.

News Around the Web