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Microsoft has shipped the first "release candidate" of Windows .Net Server, indicating that the operating system is nearly ready for general use. While Microsoft hasn't rendered a final decision on which editions of the upcoming product will run on Intel's Itanium 2 chip, it will likely be the Enterprise Server and Datacenter Server packages, the company says.
"When we ship Windows .Net Server, I want to be where Itanium 2 is," says Bill Veghte, a Microsoft VP in charge of development and marketing of Windows servers. Intel's Itanium 2 microprocessor--the company's second based on a 64-bit design for faster data processing--shipped to systems vendors earlier this month. It's still early in the adoption cycle for the new chip design, but computer research centers and some companies with hefty computing requirements are testing Itanium 2 systems, and Microsoft wants to have versions of Windows that run on the chip available when Windows .Net's 32-bit versions debut--perhaps later this year. Microsoft has already released a "limited edition" test version of Windows for Itanium 2-based systems.
Still undecided is whether Microsoft will package the 64-bit Windows code with 32-bit versions of Enterprise Server and Datacenter Server, or sell them separately. This much is clear: Windows .Net Enterprise Server will support up to eight CPUs in a server, up to 32 Gbytes of RAM on 32-bit systems, and up to 64 Gbytes RAM on Itanium-based systems. Datacenter Server requires a minimum of eight CPUs, supports up to 32, and will address up to 64 Gbytes of RAM in x86 systems and 128 Gbytes of RAM on 64-bit machines. Windows .Net, which will also ship in less-powerful Standard Server and Web Server editions, also supports clusters of up to eight computers--double the capability of Windows 2000 servers--and adds support for the Non Uniform Memory Architecture, which lets CPUs grab data from memory faster.
Microsoft group VP Jim Allchin, speaking at a technical briefing for reporters and analysts in Redmond, Wash., Tuesday, declined to say when Windows .Net Server would be generally available. But Microsoft usually delivers several feature-complete release candidates of its software as a final tune-up in the months before a product is finished.
As Microsoft prepares its first run of software products aimed at computers running 64-bit chips--a version of its SQL Server database is also in the works--the company could compete more closely with Hewlett-Packard, says David Freund, an analyst at market researcher Illuminata. HP, which co-designed the Itanium family of processors with Intel, is trying to convince customers running its HP-UX version of Unix to buy Intel-based systems running HP-UX, as the company phases out its PA-RISC processor during the next several years. "HP will need continued intimate access to Intel to continue influencing processor design," Freund says. "HP will be competing with Redmond for Intel's attention."