HP Blade Firmware Upgrading Best Practices for ESXi Host

I discussed this topic with a group, some people think firmware upgrade is not required if ESXi host working fine, that's adapted to small business, but I think enterprise can do more better.

My ESXi running on HP blades, I'll use that platform for example to share my thought and experience.

Why you need a plan for HP blade firmware upgrading of ESXi host?

First voice around my head is "We suggest you upgrade firmware to latest version". You may experience similar like me when you call HP for helping, that's look like HP official statement whenever we suspect a problem related to hardware. ;-) You know how hard to upgrade bulk of ESXi hosts to troubleshooting a network/storage problem, especially your hosts are running on older version, it may be extremely time consuming. So keep firmware up to date will save troubleshooting time, also make your life easy. :-)

Even no issue on hardware, you may still need to upgrade software, it's rarely but some maybe conflict with old firmware, and in this scenarios please consider significantly downtime when you have to upgrade firmware if your server is running on older version.

Reboot is required for most firmware upgrading,

HP blade firmware upgrading tools for ESXi host

HP is right statement, their firmware has lifecycle, and the official HP policy is only to support updating to a new version that is two versions newer than the currently installed version.

Recently HP is replacing old firmware tools by HP Service Pack for ProLiant (SPP). SPP is an all in one image file includes firmware, drivers and management tools for ProLiant servers. Thanks HP, it's pretty confuse when I upgrade by old way, now it's easy to know which firmware level your servers exactly on.

You can upgrade ESXi host by two ways below. Online upgrading is recommended. Refer to
HP ProLiant Gen8 and later Servers - Understanding the Differences between Online and Offline Modes in HP SUM

Online upgrading - ESXi 5.x first time supports online firmware upgrading, that's really benefit for production ESXi host. But on other side SPP doesn't support online upgrading for all components on ESXi host, such as power management, and you have to install HP customized ESXi to use online upgrading.

Offline upgrading - offline upgrading is convention for all OS, ~30 minutes downtime is required for each blade.

You can click here for more detail of SPP.

Best practices for HP blade firmware upgrading

I'm using it now, it may give you some idea of how to plan firmware upgrading for ESXi host.

Before implement firmware

  1. Ensure HBA firmware is supported by storage vendor.

  2. Ensure NIC firmware is supported by OS and switch.
    Please check VMware compatibility guide.

  3. Create SPP server.
    You may have multiple Datacenter on different location. You have to prepare servers on each location to store SPP image, it reduces SPP image load time from local server.

  4. Create firmware baselines.
    You may want to keep ESXi host firmware up to date, I suggest creating a baseline, all ESXi host must be upgraded to exactly same firmware base on baseline. Enterprise datacenter may has thousands ESXi host, unified firmware will make it more stable. Your troubleshooting also more efficiency since it's possible to identify hardware issue quickly.

  5. Create rollback plans.
    HP firmware can be force rollback, but not 100% successful, you can prepare alternative, such as vendor support after upgrading failed, data recovery from tape...etc.
    Create update plan.

  6. Which SPP will you use?
    Which ESXi version should be along with the baseline?
    How you upgrade ESXi host?

  7. Create testing environment.
    I would recommend perform testing if you want upgrade all smoothly. As least run the upgrading on one ESXi host and keeps it running 72 hours, monitor vmkernel log in case any issue.

  8. Generate firmware report.
    A firmware report is required to understanding the whole picture.
    You can generate the reports by native HP SUM (Smart Update Manager) in SPP image, or you can download SUM from HP website and run on a server, native version has problem to generate reports for some blade model, so latest version is preferred.

  9. Identify hotfixes and critical advisories.
    Read SPP release notes and HP CA to understand known issue and work around will make your IT life beautiful. :-)

Pre-check before upgrade OA/VC

HP blade is installed on enclosure, it managed by enclosure Onboard Administrator (OA) and interactive with network/storage via virtual connect module (VCM). Blade firmware should compatible with OA and VCM firmware version as well.

Before the upgrading you should spend some time to verify enclosure health and version by following steps.

  1. Perform a health check on the VC modules by Virtual Connect Support Utility.

  2. If OA firmware is 1.x, it must be updated to 2.32 before updating to newer versions.

  3. If VC firmware is greater than 3.00, then OA must be 3.00 first.

  4. Run HP Virtual Connect Pre 3.30 Analyzer if VC version is 3.x and upgrade to 3.3.

  5. Make sure that the VC modules are set up in a redundant configuration. Stack link should be configured.

You also need to make sure blade drivers is updated by same SPP image before upgrading.

Firmware upgrading

As I mentioned above, blade firmware should compatible with OA/VCM firmware, upgrade sequence is very important, blade may lost communication with OA/VCM if you upgrade by wrong sequence.

  1. If VC earlier than 1.34:
    Sequence is VC -> OA -> Blade.

  2. If VC 1.34 or later:
    Online mode sequence is OA -> Blade -> VC. (This is for firmware upgrading by SPP image.)
    Offline mode sequence is OA -> VC -> Blade. (This is for upgrading under CLI or offline mode.)

  3. Insert the SPP image via iLO. ( You can also extract the image to local disk of target server if it's Windows )

  4. Boot from CD-ROM if you run via iLO.

  5. I recommend you select Interactive Mode if that's first time you do it for a particular hardware specification.

  6. Go to review stage by following the wizard.

  7. Make sure all hardware is listed on updating list.

  8. Reboot after upgrading completed.

Note: If your blade firmware/driver is earlier than SPP2013.02 (include this version) you must upgrade VC to 4.01 or later, and then upgrade  blades.

That's the best practices what I'm using, please let me know if you have better idea.

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