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SQL Server races against competition

The 64-bit version of Microsoft's database will cost the same as the 32-bit version and perform better--part of the company's bid to undercut Oracle and IBM.

When Microsoft launches its 64-bit version of SQL Server at the end of April, the database will cost the same as the 32-bit version, perform better, and be part of the company's bid to oust Oracle and IBM's DB/2 on high-end systems.

SQL Server is widely regarded as suitable for smaller systems, while larger databases are the province of Oracle or DB/2 running on RISC systems. However, Microsoft has been quietly creeping up the rankings, and in March a prelaunch version of 64-bit SQL Server reached No. 2 in the nonclustered TPC-C benchmark performance table running on an NEC Itanium 2 mainframe.

"We are not stopping at number two," said Mitch Gatchalian, product manager for SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, which is the 64-bit version. "Last year in October, we came in at No. 6, and have ramped up quickly to reach No. 2. Sixty four-bit Itanium 2 will be a big turning point."

Microsoft already tops the league in clustered performance and for benchmarks where the number of processors is limited. Gatchalian pointed out that when price per transaction is taken into account, Microsoft gains considerably.

The biggest advantage of Itanium over x86 processors is the addressable memory. Although 16 exabytes--one exabyte equals one billion gigabytes--is more than anyone needs right now, the fact that it can directly address more than the 4GB limitation of 32-bit systems means it can perform database manipulations in memory easily without paging to disk, Gatchalian said.

The 64-bit version will be offered to existing Microsoft customers and users of other databases. "We have a high level of compatibility with the existing SQL Server database," he said. "The SQL code is compatible, and the database file format is the same. You simply detach from the 32-bit server and re-attach."

Pricing the 64-bit version the same as the 32-bit version is intended to ease the upgrade. "Customers who have budgeted for SQL server don't have to go back and ask for more money." However, Gatchalian did not address the issue that a 64-bit database will require a more expensive 64-bit operating system and 64-bit hardware on which to run.

SQL Server still has a very small market share at the high end, Gatchalian concedes, but he claims that many RISC customers are coming to him asking to migrate, to get better performance and lower cost. "There is a significant market out there in high-scale servers systems that Microsoft and Intel has not tapped."

RISC is computer architecture that reduces chip complexity by using simpler instructions.

At the high end, there are fewer new databases set up, so much of the business must come from migration. Microsoft has offered tools and guides to move data into SQL Server--and these will work just as well for the 64-bit version, said Gatchalian, because of the compatibility between the versions.

He gave no predictions of SQL Server's market share in the 64-bit space. "It depends on how aggressively Intel sells 64-bit," he said. "Itanium has had a slow start, but Itanium 2 will be a sharp curve. We are at the bottom part of that curve now."

ZDNet UK's Peter Judge reported from San Francisco.