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On the x86-64 freeway

64-bit 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.

Naveen Mishra
Senior Analyst
Enterprise Systems Research
Gartner India

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.

Extending x86

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 x86-64’s 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 Mishra.

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

Anil Garg
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.

Behind The Scenes
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 AMD’s 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 SMB’s 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.

anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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