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PC and server trends: Ready, set, spend

An expert looks at future PC and server trends for midmarket organizations.

The end of the year is upon us, and many of us are (and if not, we certainly should be) looking toward computing trends in 2006. Do we want to upgrade the accounting server? Should we spring for new laptops for the sales rep? Or do we hold off while waiting for the "Next Big Thing" that's just around the corner? Here are some upcoming hardware and software trends that can help make the most of your IT budget for the coming year.

64-bit technology. This refers to how much memory a CPU can use; the more, the better. We've gone from 8-bit, to 16-bit, until now when most hardware and software is written for a 32-bit architecture. But the times -- they are a-changin' -- and more and more software applications will be written for the 64-bit platform. Microsoft has drawn a line in the sand by announcing that the next major release of Microsoft Exchange will only run on 64-bit hardware; a 32-bit architecture simply will not be sufficient. In addition to the server space, 64-bit hardware is also beginning to appear on the desktop; higher-powered workstations are becoming available; and Windows XP Professional has a 64-bit edition that you can evaluate.

Windows server roadmap. It only makes sense for your hardware purchases to be driven by your software needs. This has been a bit of a challenge in previous years, as we haven't been sure of when this or that product was going to finally come out of beta. I'm quite pleased to see that Microsoft has taken great steps in formalizing a more rational roadmap for its upcoming service packs and server products. While there will certainly be some wiggle room and yes, some setbacks, the server roadmap shows us 2003 Service Pack 2 due in 2006, and Longhorn due in 2007. So what does this mean for your hardware purchases? Let's look at this from a perspective of lifecycle management. Assuming an expected three- or four-year lifecycle for a new server, this means that Longhorn is certainly going to be a factor during its lifetime. So any hardware that you purchase now should be ready to make the move to Longhorn with a minimum of fuss. Granted, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing, since the Longhorn hardware requirements won't be set in stone until much closer to its RTM date, but you can at least get a notion of what to expect from the draft requirements on Microsoft's website.

Network security. While this is obviously not a new idea, requirements for network security are only growing more stringent as virus and worm writers become more prolific. Firewalls are wonderful, of course, but a modern network requires more than a simple perimeter device to provide overall security. How are you providing secure remote access to your remote users? How are you protecting your internal network from that little game that the CFO's daughter just downloaded onto her mother's laptop from within the corporate firewall? An interesting product space that's developing is that of Network Health -- products like Cisco's Network Admission Control and Microsoft's forthcoming Network Access Protection, due to ship with Longhorn. Network and security products are designed to quarantine your internal network from any incoming host, wired or wireless, until it has passed certain health checks; is it running with the most current anti-virus definitions, does it have all the right patches, is the on-board firewall enabled, and so forth?

Laura E. Hunter is a systems manager at the University of Pennsylvania where she provides network planning, implementation and troubleshooting services for business units and schools within the university. Let us know what you think about this column; email

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