64-bit Craziness

In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft recently announced a major 64–bit strategy shift.  Check out this article from InfoWorld for all the details.  Bottom line: Most upcoming server software in the 2007+ timeframe will be 64–bit only.  Examples include Exchange 12 (might RTM in late 2006), Small Business Server “Codename Longhorn”, and Windows Server “Codename Centro” (think of Centro as SBS for mid-size companies).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for rapid adoption of new technology.  You won’t find me recommending anything but the latest and greatest, except in situations where application compatibility or budget stand in the way.  However, I think Microsoft’s x64 strategy jumps the gun by about 2 years.  Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  1. The mainstream 64–bit version Windows Server 2003 (x64 Edition, not Itanium) was launched in April, 2005.  Additionally, most server hardware in early 2005 was 32–bit.  If you consider that customers typically depreciate hardware on a 3–5 year schedule, this means 32–bit Windows servers will be prevalent until 2008 at the earliest, and 2010 at the latest.
  2. While I always recommend a fresh install of any server OS or application, many customers still elect to perform in-place upgrades from one version to the next.  For instance, I’ve completed numerous in-place upgrades from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003.  Heck, one time I was even brought in to perform an in-place upgrade of an active-passive Exchange 2000 cluster to Exchange 2003 and Windows 2003.  That might sound scary to some of you, but with good planning and testing I completed the upgrade without incident.  In fact, we only had 10 minutes of end-user downtime during the entire upgrade.  My point is this – the customer already owned the next version of Windows and Exchange thanks to Software Assurance, but they didn’t have budget for new hardware.  Imagine the same scenario a couple years from now.  In order to exercise their SA upgrade rights and migrate from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 12, the customer will most likely need to purchase new x64 hardware.  Believe me, situations like this could place a serious damper on SA sales – or even worse, it might put customers in a situation where they think the upgrade is a no-brainer, and only later discover the additional upgrade costs.  I imagine the Microsoft sales force is already thinking of these scenarios – but if they aren’t, this is something that could negatively affect their cash registers.
  3. Speaking of Exchange 2003, let’s take a look at the Microsoft Support Lifecycle.  Exchange 2003 will enter the Extended Support phase on 10/1/2008, while Windows 2003 will hit even earlier (7/1/2008).  Assuming a conservative Exchange 12 launch date of Q1 2007, customers who deploy Exchange 2003 between now and then will have a short 18–month window after the Exchange 12 launch in which to to perform an OS rebuild, or purchase new x64 hardware.  If customers delay any longer they will be out of mainstream support.  This isn’t to say Extended Support is a bad thing – it just rubs some people the wrong way.  So… given Exchange 12’s underlying OS and hardware requirements, I believe mainstream support for Exchange 2003 should be extended by 12 months at the very least.  I’ll even go a step further.  I think the Exchange team needs to reconsider their decision to make Exchange 12 x64 only.

OK – enough x64 ranting.  I’m actually very excited about x64 Windows and other server applications, so don’t take this post out of context.  Click the comments link below and let me know your thoughts on x64 and the new Microsoft strategy.