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Buy 64-bit now; you won't regret it

With Microsoft expected to move primarily to a 64-bit platform within the next few years, you will want your long term equipment to be readily able to adapt. Expert Laura E. Hunter tells you why making this transition now will save you in the long run.

Hello everyone, and welcome to 2006! Now that we've finally snacked on the last of the holiday cookies, it's time to start thinking (if you haven't been already) about formulating some new plans for your enterprise hardware and software.

There are a number of exciting developments from Microsoft both on and somewhat-further-away-but-not-terribly-far-from the horizon, so now would certainly be a good time to start thinking about lifecycle management for your desktops and server.

It's critical to not lose sight of the fact that the desktop PC you buy and put on somebody's desk today is likely still going to be around and kicking in 2009 or even 2010 by this point. With that in mind, we'll look at some future trends for both the Microsoft software platforms and the hardware that will be supporting them.

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The 64-bit push is on for Windows shops

Windows 2003, XP leading the way to 64-bit

Perhaps the principal concern when planning your upcoming hardware purchases will be the proliferation of 64-bit technology. As an industry, we've gone from 8-bit architecture to 16-bit to 32-bit architecture. We're on the verge of a major breakthrough, though, where you're going to find more and more software applications written for the 64-bit platform. Microsoft seems to have firmly committed to the 64-bit trend with a recent announcement at the IT Forum in Barcelona that the next planned release of Microsoft Exchange will only run on 64-bit hardware; the 32-bit platform simply will not be sufficient to run the new features of Exchange.

There are a number of existing applications that have been ported to 64-bit already. There is a 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003, SQL Server 2005, and there's even a 64-bit version of Windows XP Professional to allow you to move to 64-bit on the client as well as the server.

So as you're planning your hardware purchases for 2006 and beyond, you need to be aware of both emerging hardware trends as well as what's coming up on the software horizon. Now, keeping track of the new products coming out of Redmond used to be a somewhat daunting prospect, since we were never really sure when a particular product was going to be released or how long we were was going to have to wait for that next service pack.

At the moment, Microsoft's server roadmap indicates that we'll be seeing Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 some time this year, Longhorn next year, and Longhorn R2 about two years after that in 2009. (Longhorn R2, by the way, is currently slated to be the first Windows server product that will only be available on a 64-bit platform.)

So getting back to the idea of lifecycle management, let's assume that you buy a server today. How long do you expect that hardware to be in operation? Three years? Four years? Longer than that? Even if you only assume a three-year useful lifecycle, that still means that the Longhorn release is going to be available during the lifetime of that server. This means that any hardware that you purchase now should be sufficiently loaded to make the move to Longhorn with a minimum of fuss. Do you want your server hardware to be around for the longer four- or five-year haul? Then maybe you want to go ahead and make the move to 64-bit now.

Yes, you may need to spend a bit more in up-front costs by moving to 64-bit now, but it still makes more sense to plan your hardware purchases with an eye towards the long-term. While it's true that you can save a little bit by specifying lower-end hardware now, this will invariably come back to haunt you later when you're ready to make the move to Longhorn. A much better idea would be to specify and buy hardware now that's not going to require too much in the way of RAM upgrades or other improvements when Longhorn arrives next year.

10 tips in 10 minutes: Windows IT management

  Tip 1: The long-range plan for 64-bit hardware
  Tip 2: A Window into interoperability
  Tip 3: Third-party software: Do you need it?
  Tip 4: Buy 64-bit now; you won't regret it
  Tip 5: Maintaining a secure Active Directory network
  Tip 6: Firewalls can help or hurt, so plan carefully
  Tip 7: Weak passwords can make your company vulnerable
  Tip 8: Keys to finalizing your Active Directory migration
  Tip 9: Network safety relies on reaction time to Patch Tuesday
  Tip 10: Make friends with your security auditors

Laura E. Hunter (CISSP, MCSE: Security, MCDBA, Microsoft MVP) is a senior IT specialist with the University of Pennsylvania, where she provides network planning, implementation and troubleshooting services for business units and schools within the university. Hunter is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Microsoft "Most Valuable Professional" award in the area of Windows Server-Networking. She is the author of the Active Directory Field Guide (APress Publishing). You can contact her at

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