On the x86-64 freeway
x86 platforms bring more to the table than the ability to breach the 4 GB memory
limitations of standard 32-bit x86 gear. They can also handle significantly
larger amounts of data and with dual core technology they offer more throughput
as well. 64-bit applications for the x86 platform are coming in at a rapid rate,
which is why we believe that 2006 will be the year for 64-bit applications to
be deployed on the x86-64 architecture. by Anil Patrick R
64-bit processors and applications are not new. The RISC school of servers
has had these technologies since the mid-1990s. However, the price points of
these servers had dictated that only the higher-end enterprise chose these behemoths.
At least, until the x86 platforms went 64-bit (x86-64) and applications finally
started coming in. This is also the reason why 2006 will be the year when 64-bit
enterprise applications zip on the x86-64 route.
Enterprise Systems Research
Today adoption of 64-bit applications on non-RISC platforms
is picking up steadily across the world. 32-bit versus 64-bit processors
are becoming equal in representation now in the x86 space. This indicates that
adoption of 64-bit applications on the 64-bit x86 architectures will happen
during 2006. There is a real cost benefit in using these applications on the
64-bit x86. Better performance can be derived than is possible with 32-bit platforms,
says Naveen Mishra, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Systems Research, Gartner India.
Before going into why this trend will happen in 2006, we need to examine the
path traversed by x86-64 so far. 64-bit on x86 started out with vendors scaling
up existing 32-bit platforms to overcome their limitations. Primary among these
was the maximum memory limit of 4 GB that 32-bit x86 placed on applications.
To overcome the memory limit vendors such as AMD started
working on their existing 32-bit x86 platform to develop the AMD64 architecture
in 2003. This was followed by Intel with its EM64T (Extended Memory 64
Technology) architecture, a scale-up of the 32-bit Xeon platform
To overcome the memory limit vendors such as AMD started working
on their existing 32-bit x86 platform to develop the AMD64 architecture in 2003.
This was followed by Intel with its EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) architecture,
a scale-up of the 32-bit Xeon platform.
Standing On Its Own - At Last
The period following x86-64s inception was followed by an era where many
SMBs and the lower-end applications of the large enterprise ported their existing
32-bit applications to take advantage of the extended memory capabilities of
the new platform.
The main reason behind the lack of enthusiasm for 64-bit application adoption
was that 64-bit Linux was the only operating system at the time which could
harness the potential of the new architectures. Although 64-bit Windows for
servers was available for the Itanium since 2003, the lack of an x86-64 counterpart
put a dampener on the adoption. The situation was worsened by the absence of
64-bit applications that could run on x86-64.
Then what happened suddenly to clear away clouds from the x86-64 world? Simply
put, it is Windows for x86-64 (or x64 as Microsoft prefers to call x86-64).
Windows Server 2003 x64 editions were launched in April 2005. From this time
x86-64 and 64-bit applications went hand-in-hand as many enterprises (and application
vendors, more importantly) started to believe that seamless operation of 64-bit
applications was possible on x86-64.
Windows And Linux Go 64-bit
It is undoubtedly Windows, Linux, and the applications associated
with these operating systems that will drive 64-bit application adoption on
x86-64 during 2006. 64-bit Linux and Windows segments on x86-64 will see
widespread adoption during 2006. The main drivers behind this movement will
be the cost benefits associated with the 64-bit x86 architectures, says
This adoption will notably be in the SMBs and non-mission-critical areas of
the large enterprise. In SMBs, the database server is one of the major areas
where 64-bit databases on x86-64 will find huge popularity. However, it is interesting
to see that major enterprise-wide application vendors have also started making
their interest in the x86-64 market felt. This is notable in efforts such as
SAP releasing SAP R/3 for Windows Server 2003 x64.
From the OS perspective, all 64-bit OSs will run on 64-bit x86 chips whether
they are AMD or Intel. From an application point of view, most 32-bit applications
will move to 64-bit. For example, Oracle and Microsoft Exchange are already
on 64-bit. Enterprise-wide application vendors such as SAP are also working
on getting their applications on the 64-bit x86 platforms now, says T
Mohan Doss, Director, Volume Business, ASEAN & India, Sun Microsystems.
Taking On Unix
Senior VP, IT & New Media,
Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India
One of the segments to be affected by the new entrants will
be the low-end RISC-Unix market. 64-bit applications on the x86 platform
will take off during 2006. These platforms have also started cutting into the
low-end RISC market due to the price-performance benefits, says Anil Garg,
Senior VP, IT & New Media, Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India.
The capability of 64-bit architecture to address challenges such as memory space
limitations of the 32-bit x86 processors is the biggest draw for enterprises
looking at cheap alternatives to the RISC-Unix duo. These capabilities
enable users to use mission-critical applications. This is pushing into the
low-end Unix server space. This is why x86 has started being used in the entry-level
RISC-Unix space, says Mishra.
Leaders Of The Pack
The basic users of 64-bit x86 servers can be broadly divided into technical
computing and business computing users. The technical computing segment includes
verticals like EDA (Electronic Design Automation), mechanical CAD, life sciences
and digital content. This segment usually uses 64-bit memory-hungry servers
and workstations. We expect this segment to be a big adopter of 64-bit applications
running on the x86 platform, says Doss.
On the business side, key verticals such as BFSI and
telecom are adopting 64-bit applications on x86-64 in a major way. When
it comes to requirements in the x86-64 space, most enterprises usually
deploy these servers on the application, database, and edge tiers
On the business side, key verticals such as BFSI and telecom
are adopting 64-bit applications on x86-64 in a major way. When it comes to
requirements in the x86-64 space, most enterprises usually deploy these servers
on the application, database, and edge tiers.
The application tier typically involves J2EE and .Net environments where applications
are horizontally scalable through the addition of more servers. This is one
area where x86-64 is bound to catch up in a major way in the SMB and large enterprise
by co-existing with Unix rather than going head-on.
The database tier requires vertical scalability and is traditionally dominated
by Unix boxes. However now it is possible to use clustered x86-64 servers on
this front with solutions such as Oracle RAC or IBM DB2.
64-bit software adoption on x86-64 is also going to find wide adoption for the
edge tier which involves horizontal scalability. This tier involves applications
such as HTTP, SSL and IPSec.
|The x86-64 platform is an extension of existing 32-bit
x86 processors. AMD was the first to get on the 64-bit bandwagon with its
Opteron processor launched in April 2003.
Intel took its own time to come out with the 64-bit
Xeon MP (in June 2004). Intel had positioned the Itanium as its 64-bit
performance platform with the 32-bit Xeon to cater to the mass market
till realisation dawned that the Xeon had to scale up to meet the threat
from AMDs Opteron.
Both AMD64 and EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) use
the good old 32-bit x86 architecture with 64-bit memory extensions to
address up to 64 GB of RAM. Therefore, although these processors are not
true 64-bit designs, they fit nicely into an SMBs needs
as well as the non-mission-critical applications of the large enterprise.
This segment was on the lookout for a 64-bit environment
with higher memory addressability and x86-64 fitted in perfectly. Already
many SMBs have deployed enterprise applications on the x86-64 platform
with satisfactory results. Long-term performance and dependability are
yet to be monitored to see how these platforms fare in the long run.
Some of the application areas that have benefited from
the use of x86-64 platforms are Web servers, HPTC (High Performance Technical
Computing) applications, EDA and databases.