Microsoft, Intel, Sungard Demo 64-bit Wintel Box

NEW YORK -- An Itanium box running Windows 2000 and a financial services application may constitute the point of entry to a market previously closed to the Wintel platform. Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com), Intel Corp. (www.intel.com), and Sungard Data Systems Inc. (www.sungard.com) demonstrated Sungard’s Panorama financial risk management software on a 64-bit Windows machine at a recent luncheon here.

"There’s proof of both vendors scaling up," says Ed Muth, director of business development at Microsoft. The use of a Wintel box for high-end financial applications represent a step into a market previously reserved for Unix-based mainframes and minicomputers.

Microsoft draws a distinction between "scaling out," using a number of redundant boxes or processors to increase availability or stability, and "scaling up," using more processors to extend the raw power of the platform. Panorama, a computation-intensive multiuser application, provides a demonstration of the scaling up strategy.

"What this means for users is they can take scalability off the table as far as an issue," Muth says. Muth reasons that if a Wintel machine can handle the stress of a complex, multiuser application, a Wintel machine can be used in any situation.

Executives of the companies describe Unix systems as "islands of automation": Unix machines perform well for the applications, but their relationships with the rest of the computing environment can be tricky. "Technologies that could be very disruptive can be integrated seamlessly," Muth says, referring to the interoperability of high-end Windows machines with other Windows 2000 systems.

Intel and Microsoft also expect Itanium machines to be deployed as workstations for computation intensive applications. Some financial services organizations use 64-bit workstations from Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) for similar high-end applications.

Muth says that although there are significant changes to the Windows 2000 kernel and the hardware abstraction layer (HAL), 90 percent of the code in the 64-bit version is identical to the 32-bit version. Users can expect to see identical interfaces and operating system applications in the Itanium version, allowing users to quickly ramp up data center boxes.

According to Microsoft, the application accounting for the largest percentage of new code in 64-bit Windows is a set of instructions allowing 32-bit applications to run on the new platform. While the kernel and HAL are vital pieces of code, they constitute a small percentage of the code in the operating system. Users will not have to wait for applications to be optimized for the Itanium to run them on the new machines. The application is not an emulator, which creates a virtual machine on another platform. Instead, it uses the x86 instruction set Intel included on the chip for backward compatibility.

Sungard has created software for the Windows NT platform since 1996, but has renewed enthusiasm with the entrance of 64-bit Windows. "It is clearly a good platform and it is the platform for the future," says Till Guldimann, senior vice president of strategy at Sungard.

"It’s an application many careers are based on," says Mack Gill, director of alliance programs at Sungard. Users are risking their careers by choosing Wintel machines over big iron, he says.