In a watershed event for SQL Server, Microsoft has released to manufacturing the 64-bit version of the database management system. SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit), which should be available in the retail channel by the time you read this, might not see the inside of your company anytime soon--if ever. But just the fact that such a powerful version exists is noteworthy.

SQL Server scalability has always been limited to the hardware platform that Windows could run on. This limitation has been a stumbling block in the past. Although SQL Server has efficiently used the processors and memory that WinTel machines offered, UNIX platforms have had an overwhelming advantage because they could offer significantly more hardware processing power to the database. But the recent releases of 64-bit versions of SQL Server, Windows, and Intel hardware have begun to level the playing field. The days of UNIX-based hardware advantages, are rapidly disappearing if not already gone.

SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) running on a 32-way server recently posted a Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) TPC-C score that topped the highest scores that Oracle or DB2 have ever posted on any UNIX-based platform, regardless of cost. The argument that "SQL Server can't scale, therefore I can't use it" is a thing of the past. SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) opens up a new world of competition in the corporate data center, even if companies don't need to immediately deploy a 64-bit hardware solution. Simply knowing that the platform can scale to the same heights as a UNIX platform will now give many new customers the confidence to deploy 32-bit SQL Server.

But don't expect SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) to have much immediate impact on the real-world database servers you're using today. High-powered 64-bit database server solutions are best for implementations that require the processing of very large data sets in single-query operations. Usually, this description applies to some sort of data warehousing environment, although certain types of online transaction processing (OLTP) applications can also benefit. For example, the Microsoft press release for 64-bit SQL Server notes that SAP R/3 buffers each user's context into main memory. And because SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) can buffer many more user contexts than the 32-bit version, it can support SAP R/3 implementations with high numbers of concurrent users.

SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) will be an incredible boon for the select number of customers who can leverage up to 512GB of main memory. However, most of us will spend more time reading about the product than working with it. On the other hand, not long ago, 4-way multiprocessor systems were extravagant luxuries and a 100GB database was massive. Today, almost every customer I visit views a 4-way box as a standard, commodity server. And I've seen low-end desktops hosting 100GB data sets. Eventually, most companies will be mining and analyzing their rich customer-level data assets, terabyte-range warehouses will be common, and 64-bit technology will trickle down to Joe DBA. For now, it' nice to know that such database power is there if you need it. You can read more about SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/64bit/overview.asp.