With Intel's release of the Itanium 2 processor and AMD's imminent release of its Opteron chip, the era of mainstream 64-bit computing is fast approaching. Three factors will drive adoption of the new 64-bit platform: hardware support, OS support, and application support.

Aside from the defunct Alpha chip, we've had hardware support for a 64-bit Windows Server system since the release of the original 733MHz Itanium processor in August 2000. But the IGHz Itanium 2—with its 3MB of on-die, Level 3 cache—boasts speeds double those of the original Itanium and can compete with Sun's 64-bit UltraSPARC and IBM's Power4 architectures. The Limited Edition of Windows 2000 Advanced Server (Win2K AS), released in July 2002, brought 64-bit OS support to the Windows Server platform. Lack of application support, however, still stands as a hurdle to mainstream adoption of 64-bit computing, with most 64-bit applications limited to niche vertical markets such as graphical rendering software.

We don't have to worry about waiting for SQL Server to support 64-bit computing, though. The database system will be the first 64-bit application that Microsoft releases to run on its new 64-bit OSs. Microsoft began working on the 64-bit version of SQL Server (code-named Liberty) before the release of the original Itanium; the release of 64-bit SQL Server is scheduled to coincide with the release of Windows .NET Server in first quarter 2003. SQL Server and other databases can significantly benefit by moving from 32-bit to 64-bit computing. And the reason isn't added computing power. The primary gains in database performance come from the massive increase in addressable memory that the 64-bit platform provides. The upcoming 64-bit versions of Win.NET Server boost addressable memory far beyond the capabilities of 32-bit Windows. The standard 32-bit Windows Server system can address 4GB of RAM. On the 32-bit Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, using Physical Addressing Extensions (PAE) technology, addressable memory increases to 64GB. But the 64-bit Windows .NET Datacenter Server lets you address up to 128GB of RAM. The 64-bit version of Win.NET Enterprise Server (the .NET equivalent of Win2K AS) can address 64GB of RAM.

For rare high-end installations that need more than 64GB of memory, the 64-bit version of SQL Server is an answer. And for the rest of us, it's reassuring to know that SQL Server isn't going to run out of gas as our processing demands increase. Already, 64-bit SQL Server running on the Itanium 2 with Win2K AS Limited Edition 1.2 has set a new SAP SD-user benchmark score. Running on a 4-way Hewlett-Packard (HP) rx5670 server, 64-bit SQL Server produced the world's best 4-way system performance result, supporting 470 SD benchmark users with an average response time of 1.97 seconds and a total throughput of 141,000 dialog steps. On the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) front, 64-bit SQL Server running on Win.NET Server posted a new Windows-high nonclustered score of 308,620 transactions per minute (tpmC), moving SQL Server into fifth place in the TCP-C nonclustered category. Throughout this year, you'll see a host of new TPC-C scores in both the clustered and nonclustered categories—all powered by these new 64-bit platforms.