Sydney Uni centre revisits 64-bit computing

After successfully migrating from 64- to 32-bit systems six years ago, the University of Sydney’s NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre will now look at migrating back to 64-bit over the next four years as commodity processor vendors begin to push the technology.

The centre’s IS manager Paul Vlagsma, said although the transition back to 64-bit is “inevitable”, migrations won’t become prevalent for another three to four years.

“I don’t see us moving to 64-bit for another three or four years. It’s inevitable and is going to happen and I think AMD is on the right path by supporting 32-bit in hardware. Opteron will offer investment protection.”

Vlagsma said that back in 1991 the centre transitioned from DEC VAX systems to Alpha-based MicroVAXs running OpenVMS which was a change from 32- to 64-bit.

“Everything doubled in size, the operating environment, the instruction link, memory, and every program doubled,” he said. “We had two million lines of code compiled. We were also stretching our disk space a bit. This took about a year and a half.”

Then in 1998, a migration from 64-bit Alpha systems to 32-bit Intel was made as “by 2000 we were hoping to go to 64-bit Windows on Intel because we knew Microsoft was going to drop Alpha support”.

“The upgrade will happen as databases are getting bigger but it will take a long time,” Vlagsma said. “You used to write off your systems in three years but these days it’s four to five years since software is not bloating as much.”

Regarding 64-bit platforms, Vlagsma said by delaying the release of 64-bit Windows, Microsoft is “not in a hurry” and 64-bit and Linux would be Oracle’s “best path forward”.

When asked why the industry has gone from 64-bit to 32- and is now set to go back again, Vlagsma said: “It was a failure of DEC to appreciate that minicomputers were out and microcomputers were in. They took a long time to migrate from DECNet to IP so they didn’t follow where the market was going. Meanwhile Intel was riding on the back of the PC boom. Alpha was a very fast chip compared to Intel.”

Sun Microsystems’ national product manager for enterprise systems, Robert Becker, said the industry is right on a transition which is great news for end users.

“Opteron is the perfect hardware technology to bridge 32- and 64-bit computing without a price premium. It’s about future-proofing the architectural decision,” Becker said. “I wouldn’t advise waiting as that will present more migration challenges later and fixes will become harder which puts the business at risk. Go ahead with a migration now.”

AMD’s technical manager Michael Apthorpe seconded this by saying if users want to go from 64-bit RISC to 64-bit AMD it’s a software, not hardware, decision.

“End users can migrate from Unix to Linux on AMD but it will depend on the applications, as they tend to be specific,” Apthorpe said. “I don’t know why end users are going back to 32-bit as they should consider going to Opteron’s x86-64 architecture. We have our technology already to market so if customers want to migrate to 32-bit and then wait to transition to 64-bit AMD technology allows them to do this.”

Apthorpe said Oracle on Opteron is available in 32-bit with 64-bit in testing.

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