Microsoft Stakes Claim to x64 Future - 16 Nov 2005

Microsoft Stakes Claim to x64 Future

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In the News
- Microsoft Stakes Claim to x64 Future
- New Study Suggests Linux Has Foundational Reliability Problems

==== In the News ====
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Microsoft Stakes Claim to x64 Future Yesterday, at the IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft made several announcements about its future server products. The most important was that Microsoft plans to move its server products off the 32-bit x86 platform and on to the new 64-bit x64 platform.

Many Microsoft customers might find this news somewhat shocking. But in reality, most new server systems shipped today are already x64-based and support 32-bit OSs and applications. That's one of the great features of the x64 platform—it's backward compatible with x86-platform software. Thus, most 32-bit Windows software will run on x64 systems and provide better performance and will access to more system memory.

Still, Microsoft's transition to the x64 platform in the server space will seem aggressive. Longhorn Server (due in early 2007) will be one of the few upcoming Microsoft server products that will ship in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The following product editions will be available only for the x64 platform:
- Windows Compute Cluster Server (due in the first half of 2006)
- Exchange 12, the next major version of Exchange (due in late 2006 or early 2007)
- Longhorn Small Business Server (SBS)
- Centro, a new medium-sized-business server product
- Longhorn Server version R2

"Remember that we will be supporting the 32-bit versions of Longhorn Server until 2012, and extended support will be available through 2017," Sam Distasio, a group product manager at Microsoft, told me during a briefing yesterday. "So we're not abandoning customers that choose to stick with 32-bit systems. They will have the option to continue with 32-bit." Distasio confirmed that Microsoft will provide service packs for both the 32-bit and x64 platform versions of Longhorn Server, but that 32-bit customers will not get Longhorn Server version R2.

The company did not provide any information about the future of its desktop products. The last time I discussed this topic with Microsoft, I was told that Windows Vista will ship in versions that support both x64 and x86 platforms.

Additionally, Microsoft announced at the IT Forum that it just released the R2 version of Virtual Server 2005 to manufacturing. Product pricing has changed significantly--the Standard Edition of Virtual Server R2 will be just $99, and the Enterprise version will be $199. Finally, Microsoft previewed Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 3.0, an update to MOM 2005, at the show.

New Study Suggests Linux Has Foundational Reliability Problems
Yesterday, at the IT Forum, Microsoft presented its findings from a study it commissioned on the Linux OS. Microsoft concluded that Linux is not as reliable as the Windows OS in real-world scenarios because Linux has a foundational design problem. Stung by criticism from past studies, Microsoft commissioned the highly regarded Security Innovation (SI) company for this study, which focused on e-commerce Web applications. Microsoft and SI maintain that the problems recorded during the study for Linux would no doubt manifest themselves in virtually any scenario. And now, Microsoft is reaching out to Linux makers such as Novell and Red Hat to commission future studies comparing Windows and Linux.

"This isn't about 'can' or 'can't,'" Ryan Gavin, the director of platform strategy at Microsoft, told me in a briefing yesterday. "There are a million different ways of doing things on Linux, but unfortunately, half a million of those are wrong. Customers are starting to hit a wall in Linux because of dependency issues. It turns out that the componentization model has some detriments with regards to complexity, manageability, and time to market. Windows has a key foundational advantage over Linux."

The study revealed that Linux is essentially a house of cards because of massive software dependency problems. In the SI study, groups of experienced Linux and Windows administrators were asked to manage Linux and Windows Server machines over a simulated 1-year time period. During that time, the machines--running e-commerce Web applications--were periodically upgraded to simulate the process of meeting changing needs and requirements. The Linux machines used Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and were upgraded to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. During the same time, Windows Server machines migrated from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003. Additionally, new features were added to the e-commerce applications running on each system and were upgraded with patches and security fixes that were released during the same time period.

"The Windows systems were dramatically more reliable," Gavin told me. It took the Linux administrators six times longer than it took the Windows administrators to develop solutions. Additionally, the number of patches required for Linux systems was almost five times higher than for Windows. During the testing period, 187 patches were installed for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, compared to just 39 patches required for Windows. The Linux patches took twice as long to apply, with 14 critical software breakages due to dependency failures that caused necessary applications to stop working. Windows experienced no application failures.

The problem with Linux is that commercial Linux vendors such as Red Hat and Novell typically support only the file versions they ship with their systems. If an administrator arbitrarily updates a component to provide new functionality, in many cases the OS manufacturer doesn't support Linux, which places the customer in the OS business, according to Gavin.

Despite Microsoft's best attempts at ensuring that this study was competently and independently designed, Linux backers will no doubt find exception with it. I'll be examining this study further in my Windows IT Pro UPDATE commentary next week.

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