Dell Firmware Updates

In August 2016 we looked for ways of updating the firmware on Dell servers, using a new Dell PowerEdge R730. This was prompted by the discovery of an Update Firmware facility in the Lifecycle Controller of 13th generation PowerEdge servers, while exploring the capabilities of its iDRAC8 (see IDRAC8Investigation) so we'll start with that.

Lifecycle Controller

When booting the machine one can choose to enter the "Lifecycle Controller". This has an "Update Firmware" facility. We've made a number of attempts to use this facility but haven't yet got it to work, though a few people in other Schools have. It seems fiddly to configure, and some of the required configuration values are not obvious. Other schools which have successfully used this method report that the latest combined firmware update for the iDRAC and Lifecycle Controller should be installed (by some other method) before trying to use this update method.

Dell System Update (dsu)

dsu is a command line utility.

Web and docs: see the Dell System Update web page. A copy of the manual is in /afs/inf.ed.ac.uk/group/mp-unit/firmware/dell/dsu.

Installation: it can be installed simply, quickly and apparently non-invasively using the instructions on the web page. The installation adds a couple of Dell yum repositories then installs an RPM. This looks easy enough to capture and preserve in LCFG.

Compatibility: So far it seems to be entirely compatible with Scientific Linux and require (for example) no changes to /etc/redhat-release. Its installation script checks for CentOS and SL then treats them as RHEL. However compatibility with SL or CentOS is specifically not guaranteed. At the time of writing DSU supports RHEL 6.8 and 7.2 and a couple of versions of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Use: dsu is straightforward. Login to the server; become superuser; then run the command. dsu -i will produce an inventory of the current firmware levels. dsu -u will produce a list of possible firmware upgrades. The user can then select any or none of these for installation. Any selected updates are then scheduled for installation at the next reboot. All updates are installed in the same reboot process (so this can take a while). Downgrades can be done in the same manner by running dsu -d.

Potential: Once installed via LCFG we could use this not just for updating firmware but also as a front end to the new inventory: a dsu Tartarus module ought to be simple to write and to give a comprehensive list of the system's firmware.

Dell Linux Repository

This method was superseded by Dell System Update but for completeness it's documented on the latter's web page. We didn't try it for this investigation.

Bootable ISOs

Dell provides bootable ISOs containing firmware updaters for a wide variety of PowerEdge systems. They can be used with a DVD or a USB stick or (with an iDRAC Enterprise licence) directly from the file.

Web:

Use: We haven't yet tried this method. We intend to. Other schools in the college use it routinely and report it to be straightforward, with one procedural wrinkle: the combined firmware update for the iDRAC and Lifecycle Controller should be applied (by some other method) before attempting to use the ISO.

Download from dell.com

Dell's web site includes a facility which suggests the appropriate firmware updates for any given Dell model, and makes the updates available for download. The updates can then be installed manually later on. This is the system which we have used until now. It's generally reliable but it's time-consuming and fiddly.

Start at http://www.dell.co.uk and navigate to "Support" "for Work" for PowerEdge servers, and choose to download drivers and updates. Once the correct model and operating system have been selected, updates with a .BIN suffix can be downloaded. These can later be installed one at a time, bearing in mind various tips and tricks. This method could be used to update the combined firmware of the iDRAC and Lifecycle Controller before using one of the more automated methods described above.

poweredgec.com

The Dell web site poweredgec.com offers support for Dell's PowerEdge C servers, as opposed to the more familiar PowerEdge R or T series. However it also offers hugely comprehensive, automatically updated indices to a wide variety of Dell downloads for every Dell server, right back to the 8th generation PowerEdge. It's a very interesting facility and well worth exploring.
Topic revision: r2 - 14 Oct 2016 - 13:13:19 - IanDurkacz
 
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