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The 64-bit push is on for Windows shops

Microsoft's decision to make future versions of Exchange and Windows 64-bit only means IT managers may need to reassess some of their long-range hardware rollout plans.

For many IT managers, a move to 64-bit technology is not necessarily a priority for next year. In fact, most of them probably have no clear-cut timeframe for when they would move off of their 32-bit servers.

But now that Microsoft has come clean by listing a handful of its upcoming platforms, which will run exclusively on the new hardware, Windows administrators need to think about how they will craft their long-term buying plans.

Microsoft had previously told users that some of its newer server software due out in 2006, 2007 and beyond -- such as Exchange 12, Longhorn R2, Centro and a few others -- would run on 64-bit machines.

At IT Forum 05 in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft went further by saying these platforms would not run on 32-bit gear, but instead would be optimized only for 64-bit hardware. The first version of Longhorn, due in 2007, will run on both 32-bit and 64-bit servers.

My laptop is already 64-bit. I'm guessing that [by the time these products ship] the price deltas won't be that significant.
Rick Zach, WCVB,

One Exchange expert said that people who buy hardware need to think about when they are going to deploy Exchange 12. The platform isn't slated to ship until late 2006 or early 2007 at the earliest.

So, for most organizations, this upgrade to Exchange 12 won't be for another year or more. And this is only for "those who need to jump on the bandwagon," said Lee Benjamin, principal at ExchangeGuy Consulting, in Boston.

For some IT managers, rolling out 64-bit servers will not be a big deal because by the time the 64-bit only software is ready, their organizations will already be slip streaming 64-bit hardware into the enterprise.

"My laptop is already 64-bit," said Rick Zach, chief engineer at WCVB, a division of Hearst Argyle Television Inc., in New York.

But Zach recognizes that servers have a longer lifespan than desktops or laptops. Anyone buying one of the new software platforms would also likely be interested in a new hardware platform, he said.

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"I'm guessing that [by the time these products ship] the price deltas won't be that significant," Zach said. "I think it's just a natural evolution, like coming out with NT and saying it won't run on a 486."

At Cavell USA Inc., Microsoft's decision to run Exchange 12 only on 64-bit machines may cause the company to consider moving from Exchange 2000 right up to Exchange 12 when it does make the transition, said Rick Larko, a software conversion analyst at the Cambridge, Mass.-based-insurer.

Prior to the announcement, Cavell USA had discussed making an upgrade to Exchange Server 2003 next year. Larko said that even though he most likely won't jump to 64-bit technology until he feels that all of the bugs are worked out, he takes any such move in stride.

"It's only a matter of time with cutting-edge technology before people embrace it," he said. "At first there is some apprehension [in that] people wonder if it's right for me. But since the hardware industry is going in that direction anyway, 64-bit is going to be the next wave of innovation."

But not every organization can think about upgrading to 64-bit anytime soon. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where product pricing is always an issue, there are roughly 7,000 students, faculty and staff running Exchange e-mail accounts.

"[The requirement for 64-bit hardware] is obviously going to increase the cost of upgrading the product, and cost is always a big factor," said Shawn Frenette, system engineer at the medical school in Worcester, Mass. "I'm familiar with 64-bit and its advantages. But you kind of like to make your own path rather than be forced."

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