New x86 server processor technology is currently released on roughly a 12-to-15 month schedule. That means that approximately every 18 months there is a major x86-architecture update available from server vendors. Variants of these major processor updates, with different feature sets and/or speeds, are also released in-between the 12-to-15 month release cycle. Desktop and laptop x86 processor technology schedules are even more aggressive and release more often than the server processors. For the new features in these processors to be used by the operating system it must be updated to a newer OS version or a service pack that is released after the new processor was made available. New processor technology and the new features that are introduced with the new technology are always leapfrogging operating systems, from all vendors. YES Certification of SUSE Linux Enterprise smooths this out and provides a support assurance during this continual leapfrog-and-catch-up process.
Cutting-edge Processors and Service Packs
SUSE Linux Enterprise has perfected the balance between cutting-edge and rock solid in the enterprise operating system arena. When a new processor leapfrogs the operating system, the only way to keep this balance is to provide an updated service pack. In a service pack all of the new processor microcode from the processor vendor and specific hardware enablement (like new drivers that expose new hardware or new functions in hardware) are included. It would not be wise and it would be hard to ensure stability if processor code updates and other related enablement were done during a normal web maintenance update. Web maintenance updates provide patches, fixes and security updates between service packs. So, all of the processor updates and driver updates as well as all of the patches, fixes, security releases and new features are rolled into the latest service pack. Again, all operating system vendors operate this way.
But what about the time between the release of the new processor and the release of the new SUSE Linux Enterprise Service Pack? How can you ensure compatibility during that interim? Before answering those questions, I need to provide definitions of “basic” and “full” processor support, so we are all on the same page.
Basic and Full Processor Support
First I’ll define “basic processor support.” When a new x86-based processor is released, it will always be “x86-compatible.” This is also referred to as “Intel-compatible” (even processors from AMD are x86-compatible). This means it will function at a basic level as all previous x86 processors did. The operating system should install and run on the processor even though the new feature set is not yet implemented or being used by the operating system. That is the definition of “basic processor support”: the OS will function and all of the normal services (networking, application environment, user space, storage, virtualization, etc.) will run, but the new processor features are not yet being used by the OS. Full processor support occurs when the operating system not only functions but all of the new processor features are running and used by the OS.
YES Certification – Tested and Approved
So how do you ensure compatibility with new hardware when the operating system includes only basic processor support? The answer is SUSE YES Certification. If a system with a new processor is tested and approved with a YES bulletin, then that system is fully supported by SUSE. When you consult the certification bulletin, you’ll want to ensure that things like the tested OS version (including the service pack), the specific tested and approved hardware components or configuration, as well as any configuration notes that may improve your overall experience with hardware/OS compatibility, have been certified and validated. You can search for specific system bulletins at https://www.suse.com/yessearch/. So, until the next service pack is released, which includes updated processor functionality, you can still have confidence that your hardware is supported “if” it is YES Certified with the existing service pack.
Will I Notice That My Installation/Configuration Only Has “Basic” Processor Support?
Finally, I want to cover a few things that you may have been thinking about while reading this blog that I may not have answered. If a system has basic processor support and you are waiting for the next service pack for full processor support, are you, as an administrator, going to notice the difference? Probably not. Most processor features will improve the systems functionality, but you will probably not notice it unless you have a specific application needing the feature. Are there things that may not be compatible on the new system with basic processor support? Yes. That is why we conduct YES Certification; we do find incompatibilities. That’s why you should use the YES Certification bulletin to understand the exact configuration tested and whether there were issues and/or workarounds. Even a system with full processor support could have some issues that you will want to be aware of, so make sure you review the certification bulletin.
I hope this gives you a better appreciation for the information that exists when you use YES Certification to help you buy SUSE-compatible hardware and virtualization platforms. You can find more information about SUSE YES Certification at https://www.suse.com/partners/ihv/yes/. Stay tuned for future blog topics about SUSE YES Certification. You can also review previous YES Certification blogs at YES Certification blog posts.