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Can ArcSDE connect to a RDBMS on a separate machine running an OS that ArcSDE doesn't support? Is such a connection supported by ESRI?
Yes, but there are conditions that must be met. Consider the following environment:
In this environment, ArcSDE Application Server (or an ArcSDE Client using Direct Connect) is running on Computer A, and the RDBMS is running on Computer B. Even if the operating system (OS) of Computer B is not supported for use with ArcSDE, ArcSDE should be able to successfully connect.
ESRI will attempt to support this environment as long as all three of the following conditions are met:
1. Computer A must be running an operating system supported by the particular version of ArcSDE present.
2. Computer B must be running an operating system supported by the particular RDBMS present.
3. The particular version of ArcSDE on Computer A must support the type and version of the RDBMS on Computer B.
If all three of these conditions are met, the environment is correctly set and ESRI will support the environment until limitations are found, or if it is found not to work.