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As written in the previous post, the HCL check is a mandatory step in each major upgrade (and of course also in each new implementation). And one of the aspect to verify is the firmware version that must match the minimum required for the particular version of vSphere:

  • BIOS of physical servers: my recommendation is use always the latest stable version. The issues with old and unsupported (from vSphere) versions could be really hard to identify and troubleshoot… for example on a old IBM server with an unsupported firmware, there was a really strange and silly issue where only one 64-bit VM was working at one time…
  • Other firmware of physical servers: BIOS is only one of the server’s firmware, some servers have a different firmware for the motherboard (for example on old Dell it is call BMC firmware and must be also upgraded to latest version), most servers have an off-band management interface (DRAC/iDRAC on Dell, iLOE on HP, …) with a related firmware… And of course there are some firmwares on storage card (really important if you use local storage) or storage/network adapters.
  • Storage’s firmware: the VMware HCL specify also the minimum firmware level for storage solutions. Some functions (VAAI, VASA, …) may require firmware really new (sometime marked as experimental or early production).
  • Switches’s firmware: network switches (included SAN switches) are usually not listed in the HCL, but they must be considered and keep up-to-date.

How manage the firmware updates? For storage and network devices it’s usually easy: the vendor defines the specific producer and in most case is also easy to apply (for example with a simple browser). If the infrastructure is well designed for availability a storage processor or physical switch modules upgrade must not impact on the production.

But for physical servers the upgrade procedure could be not so easy: the upgrade packages are usually for Windows, Linux or DOS (this one to be used with a bootable floppy or USB keys)… Nothing specific for ESXi.

For Dell PowerEdge servers there are some options to perform a firmware upgrade:

  • Dell Unified Server Configurator (USC): available only from the 10th generation… during the POST phase it can be activated with F10 (for more information see this doc).
  • Dell Server Update Utility (SUU): a bootable DVD to handle all the firmware upgrade.. the download is available from Dell Support site (note that HP and IBM have also similar solutions).
  • Dell OpenManage IT Assistant: free tool for a central management (for more information see this doc). It includes also a patching function, but seems that does not work with ESXi hosts.
  • Dell Management plugin for VMware vCenter: tool (with a fee) for a central hardware management integrated with vCenter Server (for more information see this doc).

In my case, with the old Dell PowerEdge 2950 servers (9th generation, but compatible with vSphere 5), the new and useful USC function is not available. The SSU or a floppy/USB was a solution, but in my case, with ESX 4.1, was also possible (with a little trick) use the service console and the Linux version of the patches.