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Partner Linux Driver Process FAQ

General Questions

What is the Partner Linux Driver Process?

The Partner Linux Driver Process (or more simply "Driver Process") allows customers to receive maintenance and support for drivers and kernel modules independent of released SUSE Linux Enterprise distributions.

Through the Driver Process, hardware and software vendors can provide additional Linux drivers and driver updates to customers directly, in a way that is integrated with the SUSE Linux Enterprise automatic update service.

The Driver Process fills the gap between SUSE Linux releases by providing needed Linux drivers that can be critical to a customer's success.

What Problem does Novell solve with the Partner Linux Driver Process?

Previously, if a driver wasn't a part of the distribution, a customer was required to locally compile the driver and add it to his/her system(s). Compiling local versions of drivers often didn't produce a supportable or functional environment and also introduced the possibility of rendering the entire system unstable.

For customers to receive maintenance and support for kernel drivers, the drivers had to be in the released distribution or an officially released kernel update or service pack.

How does the Partner Linux Driver Process benefit customers?

The Driver Process enables support of more hardware and kernel-level functionality and allows Novell and partners to fix bugs between Linux kernel releases and product service packs. Customers benefit by being able to run SLES on more hardware and by obtaining bug fixes in a more timely manner.

How does the Partner Linux Driver Process benefit independent hardware and software vendors?

The Driver Process allows kernel drivers to be provided independently from Novell's release schedules and release media. The kABI Notification Service (part of the Driver Process) simplifies driver maintenance by notifying partners about possible incompatibilities between their drivers and pending kernel updates. Furthermore, the Driver Process offers third-party vendors the opportunity to provide drivers that are not yet accepted upstream in the kernel.org source tree. Perhaps most importantly, software and hardware vendors benefit from having satisfied customers that are able to update their systems with newer hardware and software without waiting for Linux releases.

How does the Partner Linux Driver Process benefit Computer System Integrators?

Through the Driver Process, a computer system integrator may request a "Driver Kit" to provide all the non-SLES drivers needed for a specific system. The computer system integrator can then easily provide customers with system-specific drivers, and be assured that customers will automatically get updates to these drivers. Additionally, the computer system integrator can push out updated drivers to customers at any time by working with Novell to update the driver kit's online update site.

How does the Partner Linux Driver Process work?

The Driver Process is a combination of technology and collaboration between Novell and partners to coordinate kernel updates and driver updates.

For the Linux administrator, the Driver Process simply means installing Driver Update Disks (DUDs) and/or Add-on Products, and the rest is magic: driver packages are matched to detected hardware and auto-installed. The Add-on Products include an update site URL, and installation of the Add-on Products automatically registers the system for future driver updates from this URL.

A driver is linked to kernel symbol versions via kernel Application Binary Interface (kABI) metadata. This linkage enables the system to know what driver versions will work with the current kernel version. When a kernel update occurs, YaST uses the kABI metadata to determine if an updated driver is needed or if the existing driver will still work. If an updated driver is needed and is available from the update URL, YaST installs the updated driver.

For certified drivers, SUSE Linux Enterprise customers can contact Novell support which will work with vendors to resolve driver issues.

Behind the scenes, Novell and its partners work together to provide updated drivers as required for new kernel versions, etc. For each kernel update, Novell notifies partners about possible changes to the kABI and provides updated kernels to partners for driver rebuilds (as soon as security embargos allow). Depending on the partner level as detailed Partner Linux Driver Process Program Details, Novell may offer to take the driver code into a build service so the driver is already rebuilt within Novell during the kernel security embargo. When driver code is in Novell's build service, the driver update is usually available at the same time as the kernel security update.

What is a "Driver Kit"?

A Driver Kit is the core component/deliverable of the Driver Process. A driver kit comprises the elements needed to install specific drivers and automatically update those drivers as necessary for newer kernels. Novell provides driver kits to partners. Partners then provide the kits (w/ modifications as necessary) to their customers.

When Novell provides a driver kit to a partner, it will include:

  • iso image containing a DUD/Add-on Product built for a specific kernel (e.g., SLES 10). The Add-on Product will be configured to register (on the end-user's system) a pre-established online update site.
  • tarball of a repository populated with updated drivers for released kernels

After receiving a driver kit from Novell, a partner will generally:

  • test the driver kit (DUD/Add-on Product and repository)
  • add any desired user documentation
  • place the DUD/Add-on Product on the desired installation media
  • place the tested repository on the pre-established online update site (or request Novell to place the repository on Novell's online update site)
  • publish information about where to find the product and how to install it

When customers use the driver kit's installation media, the installation process will automatically register the customers for automatic updates from the online update site.

Does the Partner Linux Driver Process work with all SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 based products?

The Driver Process is a new feature of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 and is shared across all SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 based products.

Does the Partner Linux Driver Process also work for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, Novell Linux Desktop, and related products?

The Driver Process provides a limited solution for kernel driver updates beginning with SLES 9 SP3.

Do I have to join the Partner Linux Driver Process in order to provide driver kits and update sites to my customers?

Joining the Driver Process provides build services and allows for a close integration with Novell's update schedules, etc. However, a partner can create driver kits (including online update sites) in a self-service manner. For information on how to create driver kits, please see Driver Kit Do-It-Yourself. This section includes information on creating Driver Update Disks (DUDs), Add-on Products, and online update sites.

Impact of the Partner Linux Driver Process

How does the Partner Linux Driver Process relate to the kernel community?

As an active member of the open source community, Novell's position is clear: The best place for partners to develop kernel drivers is upstream in the kernel.org source tree, where kernel driver code benefits from thorough review and community involvement. Novell promotes having all Linux device drivers be a part of the official kernel.org source tree. However, we recognize that some drivers are not yet in kernel.org, or will not be integrated into SLES until an upcoming service pack. The Driver Process offers a solution in such cases.

Is the Partner Linux Driver Process strategic to Novell?

The Driver Process is part of our Open Enterprise Strategy. It is designed to strengthen the cooperation between enterprise-oriented technology partners and Novell: together we provide our customers with the infrastructure they rely on to successfully run their businesses in their own open enterprise. Furthermore, the Driver Process allows our partners to extend their SUSE Linux Enterprise hardware and software support to their customers in a way that is independent of Novell's release schedules.

Is the Partner Linux Driver Process only available for Novell or for all Linux vendors?

The Driver Process technology is all open source and included in the openSUSE.org distribution of SUSE Linux. Novell is providing and explaining the inner workings of this technology to the industry and other Linux vendors. Our intention is to further the general adoption of Linux. This is only possible by working with the Linux community.

Novell is contributing actively to the Linux distribution's effort to create a coordinated approach to providing updated drivers. We welcome and encourage other Linux distributions to incorporate our open source technology. DKMS already supports SUSE Linux KMPs.

I like the Partner Linux Driver Process. What's next?

I'm an end user and need to use a specific driver. What are my next steps?

Your vendor provided you with a "Driver Update Disk" (DUD) or a "SUSE add-on product" (URL or physical medium). Please follow the generic step by step instructions to do an initial install of SUSE Linux with that medium or to later add the driver, or follow the instructions that came with the DUD/Add-on medium.

We provide our SUSE Linux Enterprise customers support for certified drivers for drivers provided by the Linux Partner Driver Process.

I develop device drivers and want to use the Partner Linux Driver Process. What are my next steps?

Join Novell PartnerNet: Joining PartnerNet

Review the Partner Linux Driver Process Documentation at Partner Linux Driver Process Introduction.

Determine for which hardware (or other functionality) you would like to provide a driver kit.

Read the Kernel Module Packagers Manual  to understand how to structure the kernel module package(s) (KMPs) that will be in the driver kit.

Determine whether you wish to request the driver kit from Novell or create the driver kit yourself.

If you wish to request a driver kit from Novell, refer to the program details specified at Partner Linux Driver Process Program Details to ensure that the partnership requirements are met. Then refer to Requesting Driver-level Product Enablement.

If you wish to build a driver kit yourself, refer to the documentation at Driver Kit Do-It-Yourself.

I'm a computer system integrator and want to use the Partner Linux Driver Process. What are my next steps?

Join Novell PartnerNet: Joining PartnerNet

Review the Partner Linux Driver Process Documentation at Partner Linux Driver Process Introduction.

Determine for which system model you would like to provide a driver kit.

Read the Kernel Module Packagers Manual to understand how to structure the kernel module package(s) (KMPs) that will be in the driver kit.

Determine whether you wish to request the driver kit from Novell or create the driver kit yourself.

If you wish to request a driver kit from Novell, refer to the program details specified at Partner Linux Driver Process Program Details to ensure that the partnership requirements are met. Then refer to Requesting Driver-level Product Enablement.

If you wish to build a driver kit yourself, refer to the documentation at Driver Kit Do-It-Yourself.

What's the future of the Partner Linux Driver Process?

We are working towards a self-service build service based on the openSUSE infrastructure to further ease participation in the Partner Linux Driver Process.

 

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