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The long-range plan for 64-bit hardware

Expert Laura E. Hunter talks about developing a long-range plan for your major server hardware purchases and examines some factors that should influence your purchasing decisions.

Contributor Laura Hunter wrote in an earlier article about some of the upcoming releases of the Windows server operating systems and applications, and how the increasing prevalence of 64-bit hardware might affect your future buying decisions. She continues this series with a discussion on how to develop a long-range plan for your major server hardware purchases and examines some factors that should influence your purchasing decisions.

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When planning for a major server upgrade, it's important that you take a step back from concentrating only on the myriad day-to-day issues that occur on your network. Instead, take a longer view of where your network is going to be in three months, six months or even a few years from now. While none of us has a crystal ball in these matters, we're fortunate that Microsoft has taken some steps to streamline and standardize the release cycles for its desktop and server operating systems. As managers and decision makers, we can use this information to be somewhat more predictive and proactive in planning for future hardware purchases and upgrades.

Use the Microsoft roadmap to your advantage

Microsoft's current server roadmap now classifies server releases into the following categories:

  • Major releases. These releases include key changes to the kernel, the underlying programming model or other significant functionality changes that may or may not be compatible with existing hardware and software apps. Using this terminology, the change from the NT4 domain model to Active Directory would have classified Windows 2000 as a major release, for example. Windows Server 2003 was also considered a major release due to some significant security and functionality changes between Windows 2000 and its successor. The next major version of the server OS is going to be Longhorn, which is currently slated for a 2007 release.
  • Update releases. These consist of updates that can be integrated into the current major release and will likely include some new functionality or security enhancements without making a significant overhaul to the underlying OS. As you might imagine, Windows Server 2003 R2 is an update release to Windows Server 2003. You can expect an update release to Longhorn (you can think of it as "Longhorn R2") within a year or so of the Longhorn release, probably in 2008 or 2009.
  • Service packs. Before update releases, these were the primary means of updating the Windows operating system. A service pack (SP) consists of security patches and the occasional smattering of new functionality like the Security Configuration Wizard in 2003 SP1. We should be seeing Windows Server 2003 SP2 some time next year.

    As you can see, we now have a pretty clear idea of what the Windows server team will be throwing at us for in the short- and long-term:

  • 2005: Windows Server 2003 R2
  • 2006: Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2
  • 2007: Longhorn
  • 2009: Longhorn R2

    Consider that Longhorn is on the horizon

    What should be fairly obvious from this timeline is that, if you're planning to purchase new server hardware this year, you'd be remiss in not giving some thought to Longhorn compatibility for the server hardware that you're specifying. The last thing you want to do is find yourself either replacing your brand new server in less than 12 months down the line or being prevented from deploying the new features of Longhorn because your year-old hardware won't cut it and you don't have the budget for upgrades.

    Ride the 64-bit trend

    Be sure to consider another factor that will greatly affect any new server purchases you make: the increasing prevalence of 64-bit computing. At November's IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft gave us all a look at its plans for integrating 64-bit support into current and future releases of the OS. As we speak, 64-bit computing technology is already here, since both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP have a 64-bit version of the OS, and Longhorn will have both 32-bit and 64-bit support.

    Once Microsoft releases Longhorn, however, there are going to be more and more 64-bit-only products hitting the streets. Most interesting is that the update release to Longhorn, Longhorn R2, is currently slated to be available only as a 64-bit release, as is the Longhorn version of Small Business Server. So, if you're looking at a 2007 server purchase to support the new Longhorn release, give some serious consideration to making the jump to 64-bit computing. In other words, be ready for the update release when it arrives.

    While planning for future releases of any company's products can be an inexact science, hopefully we've given you some information about upcoming trends that can make the task a bit easier. Your awareness of the updates and advances planned for the next few years will have you making much more informed planning decisions for your server hardware and operating system purchases and upgrades.

    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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