After it acknowledged two weeks ago that its initial fix for the Meltdown and Spectre flaws was itself flawed for users of older systems, Intel said Monday it has identified the “root cause” behind the problematic patches and will roll out updated patches later this week.
In a blog post, Intel said new patches for Broadwell and Haswell-based computers — chips that are two generations removed from the current Skylake design — are being tested by “industry partners,” which almost assuredly includes the Big Three cloud computing providers in Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google. It also advised customers of certain systems (a full list is here) to stop deploying the patches until the updated patches are released.
More than six months after Google informed Intel that nearly all the computers on the planet released in the last 20 years have security holes thanks to a chip design flaw, Intel seems no closer to completely addressing the Meltdown and Spectre issues than it did when it first went public with the news in early January. Regular computer users don’t have a lot to worry about, but operations managers at cloud companies and data centers have done little else in 2018 but worry about these security issues and the performance impact of the patches designed to mitigate those issues.
And when Intel’s patches started causing their own issues, such as systems rebooting out of nowhere at a much more frequent clip than usual, the problem grew even more complex. While Monday’s announcement signals that the Broadwell and Haswell issues might soon be addressed, patches for systems using the latest-generation Skylake processors as well as systems older cores like Sandy Bridge are still problematic.
Each time news trickles out about just how crazy this unprecedented industry event really is, cloud vendors and data center managers consider buying servers from AMD or ARM vendors the next time their systems need to be replaced. Processors made by those companies are also affected by the Spectre vulnerability, but to different degrees, and with virtually the entire data center processor market to itself Intel has nowhere to go but down.