The recent announcement of the little-endian mode for IBM’s Power8 processor was a pleasant surprise for current Power users and prospective users alike. The new mode will help remove the portability barrier between IBM Power and Intel’s x86 processors, which are exclusively little-endian, allowing customers to concentrate on the performance and cost-effectiveness of the products.
Big-endian and little-endian are two ways of storing bytes into memory and essentially act as mirror images of each other. Big-endian machines store the most significant bytes in the smallest possible address, while little-endian systems do the opposite, storing the least significant bytes in the smallest address. [More on Endianness] As you can imagine this can create big problems when trying to run a little-endian application on a big-endian machine, as the computer will read information in the wrong order.
SUSE is gearing up to aid in IBM’s efforts to fully support x86 workloads with the SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 operating system. The OS will run in the Power8’s little-endian mode and offer a streamlined source-code porting process when moving from Intel architecture to Linux on Power.
“In 1999, SUSE worked with IBM to bring System z into a new era, bringing Linux to the mainframe,” says Michael Miller, vice president of global alliance and marketing at SUSE. “Now, we are applying our deep software engineering experience to help IBM usher in a new era for IBM POWER8.”
While IBM has begun porting the most popular Linux applications to Linux on Power (156 as of late April), this number won’t be convincing any enterprises on the fence about moving to an IBM Power architecture.
SUSE Enterprise Linux 12 could help IBM achieve the competitive advantage it is clearly aiming for. What remains to be seen is how well IBM can live up to its promise of a fully compatible Linux on Power architecture that can simultaneously take advantage of both little-endian and big-endian computing.
SUSE Enterprise Linux 12 is currently in beta and will be released sometime later this year. You can find release notes on the new version here.