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Microsoft to Give Customers a Break on Dual-Core Licensing

With the expected arrival of dual-core processors from both Intel and AMD next year, Microsoft faced a licensing dilemma -- do right by customers by charging for only the physical processors or do right by investors by wringing maximum profit from each core on the processor.

Microsoft followed the recommendation of its chipmaker partners Tuesday in coming down on the side of licensing its software based on the physical processors. The early announcement of the decision also gives customers more definitive software acquisition costs to build into plans to move to dual- and multicore processor-based systems.

Dual-core processors have two physical processor cores on a single chip. Each core can act as a two-processor system, basically doubling the power of any given chip. AMD recently demonstrated dual-core AMD Opteron processors running Windows Server 2003 and the chipmaker plans to ship dual-core Opterons in mid-2005. Intel plans to roll out a dual-core Xeon MP processor, code-named "Tulsa," and a dual-core Itanium 2 processor, code-named "Montecito," next year. The chip giant's roadmap also calls for four cores per processor a few years later.

AMD expects the majority of its server processors will be dual-core by early 2006. Intel has said it expects more than 80 percent of its server processor shipments to be dual-core by the end of 2006.

Microsoft's new licensing policy states that server applications with per-processor licensing, such as SQL Server and BizTalk Server, will count only physical processors, not the number of cores. Similarly, Windows Server 2003 will count physical processors rather than cores in determining whether the server has too many processors for the server operating system's edition. For example, an eight-way server with dual-core chips wouldn't exceed Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition's eight-processor support limit even though the system contains 16 processor cores.

Microsoft's choice wasn't straight up or down vote of customers versus shareholders. "Microsoft is approaching this decision with the goal of driving high volume and high value to standards-based computing through logical licensing and more cost-effective adoption of multicore processors," the company said in a statement. Additionally, Windows will have to compete with the Linux operating system, which will also run on the dual-core processors.

Nonetheless, Microsoft's decision stands in sharp contrast to its approach two years ago to the introduction of Hyper-Threading technology in the Intel Xeon MP processor line. At that time, Microsoft decided not to update the Windows 2000 code to fully support the technology.

Hyper-Threading presented a logical second processor, as opposed to the physical second processor a second core on the chip represents. At best, Hyper-Threading processors offered a 30 percent boost in performance. Windows 2000 would count the Hyper-Threading virtual processors as physical processors on startup, meaning on a four-way system running Windows 2000 Server, two physical processors and their two associated, low-performing virtual processors would be used, while the other two physical processors wouldn't be recognized. Rather than going back to support the feature, Microsoft required customers to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 to get the full benefits of Hyper-Threading.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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