Citing the overwhelming popularity of server hardware based on the 64-bit x64 platform, Microsoft yesterday announced an aggressive roadmap for moving its server products off of the 32-bit x86 platform. The announcement, which came at IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain, specified which products would be release only in x64 versions over the next few years.
For most Microsoft customers, this news will be somewhat shocking at first. But the reality is that most server makers will cease shipping x86-based hardware next year, and even today, most new server systems are x64-based, even though they still utilize 32-bit operating systems and applications. The beauty of the x64 platform is that it is backwards compatible with the x86 software that is common today. Thus, most 32-bit Windows software will run on x64 systems, and will provide better performance and, of course, access to far greater amounts of system memory.
Still, Microsoft's transition to x64 in the server space will seem aggressive. Windows Compute Cluster Server, due in the first half of 2006, will be available only on the x64 platform. Also, Exchange 12, the next major version of Exchange, which is due in late 2006 or early 2007, will be available only in x64 Editions. For Longhorn Server, due in early 2007, Microsoft will ship both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of most product editions. But Longhorn Small Business Server (SBS) will be x64 only, as will the upcoming medium business server product, codenamed Centro. Finally, the R2 version of Longhorn Server, due in 2009, will be x64 only as well.
"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 would provide service packs for both the 32-bit and x64 versions of Longhorn Server, but that 32-bit customers would not get an R2 release of that product.
The company did not provide any guidance on its desktop products. The last time I discussed this topic with Microsoft, I was told that Windows Vista would ship in versions that supported both x64 and x86.
Additionally, Microsoft provided a wide range of other server-related announcements at IT Forum. The company just released the R2 version of Virtual Server 2005 to manufacturing, and has announced massive price reductions of the product. Now, the Standard Edition of Virtual Server R2 will cost just $99, while the Enterprise version is $199. The company is also working on a medium business management product it will call System Center Essentials, though Distasio said that Microsoft wasn't prepared to offer any specifics about that product at this time. Finally, Microsoft previewed Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 3.0, an update to MOM 2005, at the show.