HP Z Workstations rely on WSL2 for GPU acceleration • The Register


In the face of growing demand for high-end Linux boxes, but also problems with software support on its high-end kit, HP is trying to solve the customers’ problem by using Windows as a universal wedge.

That is, it activates Microsoft’s Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2) out of the box on some of its own high-end Z workstations, boosted by Nvidia graphics processors.

GPU intercom features in modern hypervisors, such as Microsoft Hyper-V, allow GPU-accelerated applications to be used in Linux virtual machines. This functionality extends to Redmond’s WSL2. HP uses it to enable customers who want to do sophisticated GPU-accelerated things with Linux applications on the more familiar (i.e. familiar to HP) basis of Windows.

What does this really mean? There are two explanations. One is the simple one, take it at face value. The other needs a little knowledge of the story.

Very simple, we are all friends now, explanation of the past

If you want to build or run complex GPU-accelerated compute applications on Linux, using high-end workstations and graphics cards, this can be tricky. For example, Nvidia cards need a proprietary binary driver from their creator. Some Linux vendors now include it in their distributions, and you can install it using their tools – here’s how to do it on open SUSE and here on Ubuntu. On Fedora, it’s a bit more complicated.

If the driver version you need is not there or if your distribution is too recent, it becomes more difficult. You need to get the drivers directly by Nvidia and install them yourself.

The driver must be linked to your current kernel, so you need the kernel headers installed. Then you need to install the right compilation tools.

If your kernel is too new, the drivers will not be compiled. If the card is too old, the drivers will not support the current kernel versions and the drivers will not be compiled. Oh, and you have to rejection list the New FOSS driver so that it does not pick up the hardware first and the Nvidia drivers cannot control it. Which is good, the Nvidia installer driver does it for you automatically – but if the proprietary driver doesn’t work and you remove it again, the free driver doesn’t work anymore and it’s 1987 and you’re back to VGAville.

Even if a friendly Linux vendor directly supports your kit, this stuff can still be a nightmare. Someone, somewhere, will need it on a distro you’ve never heard of and if it doesn’t work, they’ll complain in a comments panel and it will be there forever.

So if there is a way to reach happy and satisfied customers by using new features of a mainstream operating system, then you would be crazy not to use it. Since Windows NT, the basis of modern Windows today, came out in 1993, it had a feature called POSIX compatibility.

Originally, this gave NT a UNIX-like personality on which you could recompile your UNIX applications to run. This evolved into the more comprehensive Windows NT services for Unix. In the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it morphed into the Windows Subsystem for Linux: something compatible enough with the Linux kernel that the non-kernel bits of a Linux distribution (called “user space “in stores) can run on it.

But WSL wasn’t really Linux; rather, it was a sophisticated Linux emulator, like WINE in reverse, allowing Linux binaries to run on Windows, without any trace of a real Linux kernel. But that doesn’t let you run Linux drivers, which led to WSL2: a dedicated Hyper-V virtual machine with a real Linux kernel inside, which means real Linux apps on the Windows desktop. And with GPU pass-through, the guest kernel inside the VM can use a real physical graphics card, which means GPU acceleration for WSL2.

Without the complex nightmare of supporting dozens of Linux distributions.

If you’re a nice, understanding person who hates cynicism, you might not like the rest.

Jaded, cynical, bitter explanation with historical context

One of Microsoft’s oldest tactics is an operation known as “kiss and extend” – or the longer version, “kiss, extend and extinguish.” He tried with Java. He tried with HTML. This has been tried several times and sometimes it worked.

WSL and WSL2 can be seen as Microsoft attempting to adopt and extend Linux: first by making Linux applications citizens of the Microsoft ecosystem, and second by using Hyper-V to do the same with the Linux kernel itself. -same. While this allows Microsoft partners to simplify their support offerings, it is a significant business benefit.

HP has been a close partner of Microsoft for decades, but it has also, at times, been a competitor: it has sold its own processors, PA-RISC, with its own UNIX for them, HP-UX. It previously sold a high performance mail server called HP OpenMail, a highly compatible direct competitor of Microsoft Exchange.

Another rival was DEC, which made the company’s first mass-produced 64-bit RISC microprocessor, the Alpha, and also had its own UNIX for this – DEC OSF / 1, later renamed Tru64. And DEC had its own operating system, OpenVMS, which ran on the Alpha. At the turn of the century, Alpha was the big rival to Intel’s 64-bit processor, Itanium, co-developed with HP.

But OG PC clone Compaq bought DEC. Compaq rolled back a 128-bit version of Alpha, then killed the entire Alpha lineup, subsequently selling the IP to its big rival Intel.

HP then bought Compaq, making it one of the biggest PC vendors.

Soon after, HP canceled OpenMail, to the surprise of customers and the suspicion of some commentators. HP released other Alpha machines but decided to cancel the Tru64 and HP / UX merger efforts and just killed Tru64. Much to the chagrin of customers, little technology has done it. HP also killed OpenVMS, although it changed its mind and sold it instead, as it had previously sold licenses to OpenMail.

Bundling WSL2 with Windows, and more specifically supporting it, is good for customers, it’s good for HP, and it’s good for Microsoft. And it’s all about the brand for HP, which, as you can see from the previous few paragraphs, has a long history of moves that are good for Microsoft – and as a major partner, that’s also good for HP. .

I’m sure it’s quite a coincidence that it’s not so good for the credibility of desktop Linux. Law? ®

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