When Microsoft launches its 64-bit version of SQL Server at the end of this month, the database will cost the same as the 32-bit version, give much better performance, 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 last month a pre-launch version of 64-bit SQL Server reached number 2 in the non-clustered 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 (the 64-bit version). "Last year in October, we came in at number 6, and have ramped up quickly, to reach number two. 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 being a billion gigabytes -- is more than anyone needs right now, the fact that it can directly address more than the 4Gbyte limitation of 32-bit systems means it can perform database manipulations in memory easily without paging to disk, said Gatchalian. The 64-bit version will be sold to existing Microsoft customers and to those with other databases: "We have a high level of compatibility with the existing SQL Server database," Gatchalian 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 that 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." In 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."