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Report: Windows Server Becoming a Mainframe Contender

A shift is taking place, in which organizations are moving more toward using x86-based servers running Windows to handle their business-critical workloads.

Such is the conclusion of a white paper published this month by IDC, but sponsored by Microsoft. The report (PDF download), called "Business-Critical Workloads: Supporting Business-Critical Computing With an Integrated Server Platform," credits improvements in x86-based server hardware technologies -- plus scalability enhancements in Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 -- as leading to this technology shift.

The report expects to see x86-based machines increasingly running business processing (BP) workloads.

"IDC finds that BP workloads are progressively shifting from mainframes and host servers based upon RISC and EPIC (Itanium-based) architectures to x86 servers," the report explains (on p. 6). The white paper defines BP workloads as "transactional workloads including OLTP and LOB applications (ERP and CRM), BI, database, and collaborative workloads."

Certainly, Microsoft is helping to speed that shift. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it would be ending support for Intel Itanium processors on three of its flagship software products.

Windows Server 2008 R2 running on newer hardware is a contender among midmarket servers (priced between $25,000 and $250,000), according to IDC's white paper. The report particularly singled out the new Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors support for multiple cores, with 12-core support on the horizon. The new x86-based multicore servers tend to have greater memory capacity and "generally support higher numbers of virtual machines (VMs) per physical server," the report explains (on p. 8).

IDC used Web-based survey information to compare new deployments of operating systems used to support BP and decision-support workloads in 2008. IBM's z/OS led the way on mainframes, handling 70 percent of such workloads. Unix was used for 44 percent of such workloads, while Windows and Linux trailed at 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Despite those numbers, midrange and high-end Unix servers showed a downturn in 2009 in terms of shipments and revenue. The report adds that x86-based servers today "account for more than 90% of all server units shipped annually -- and for more than 50% of all server revenue worldwide."

Given those trends, IDC's white paper sees an opportunity for Windows Server 2008 R2 to grab market share in the datacenter. The shift could take place "as the [current] economic downturn bottoms out."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 Larry shoes coupons

they are all x86, there's no such thing as x64.

Wed, Jun 9, 2010 Panos london

@ Larry. I don't see anything amazing in your IBM z/OS. I am not familiar with the IBM system and its capabilities but accessing millions of records by thousands of users on a SQL Server database running Windows Server 2003 is not a big deal (for sub second responses). I am a SQL Server DBA by the way.

Fri, Apr 23, 2010 Jim

Technically, Becky is correct. x86 covers both 32- and 64-bit platforms. There is no such thing as an x64. It's all x86 32-bit or x86 64-bit.

Wed, Apr 21, 2010 Larry Research Triangle Park, NC

Windows performance on any platform cannot match that of an IBM z/10 Processor running IBM's z/OS Operating System which can support tens of thousands of users accessing millions of records in IBM's DB2 database while giving users sub second response time. The microsoft sponsored study that IDC produced is paying lip service to the sponsor - microsoft.

Wed, Apr 21, 2010 Dan Iowa

Becky, I understand your dilemma if you're trying to represent both 32 bit and 64 bit architectures, but x86 is assumed to mean 32 bit in the industry. x64 is the abreviation commonly used to refer to x86-64.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 Becky Nagel Editor, Redmondmag.com

Hi Guys -- just to clarify, for x86 we follow what we see has become fairly standard in the server market: x86 is assumed to mean x86-64. The report referenced is doing the same. Hope that helps! Best, Becky (bnagel@1105media.com)

Thu, Apr 15, 2010

He should have mentioned it as x86-64

Thu, Apr 15, 2010

They must've meant x64. I don't think Windows server SKUs are even built for x86. Must be a typo or something.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 WA

The report says x86, but is that including x64 servers? I thought the x64 change was one of the big changes in architecture that made this shift possible.

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