The glitz and glamour of new product releases tend to overshadow the rather mundane task of performing firmware upgrades on storage systems. However, administrators who take the time to keep their storage systems up-to-date with the latest and greatest patches for their storage system may find they can avoid some FC SAN “gotchas” as well as find some hidden gems that vendors are packaging in their latest firmware releases.
Prompting my thoughts on this topic was a recent conversation I had on this topic with a storage architect. He recently inherited a FC SAN where the firmware releases on the storage systems were two major releases back. The older code on these storage systems was becoming a problem since other devices on the SAN (switches, virtual tape libraries, and servers) had newer firmware with new features, but in order to take full advantage of these newer features, the storage systems also needed newer code.
I discussed this topic with EMC partly because the storage systems in question were EMC Clariion, but also because I know from personal experience that EMC releases firmware updates a fairly regular basis.
In the case of its Clariions, EMC comes out with a major release every 9 to 12 months that includes major new functions. For instance, its December 2006 code release for the Clariion included a new proactive hot spare feature for improved high availability and a Quality of Service feature as a licensable add-on. Its August 2007 Clariion major release added new security features as well as iSCSI enhancements like native replication.
Another interesting feature included in the update is the Software Assistant. This tool scans the Clariion prior to starting a firmware upgrade and provides recommendations as to which code an administrator should load on the system. The Software Assistant also does a high availability check prior to actually starting the upgrade to confirm that firmware upgrade can be completed without unexpectedly taking the system offline.
EMC recommends to customers that they install major firmware releases for its Clariions shortly after they are released (within 3 to 4 months).
However, there is a more pressing reason to ensure that firmware code is current. When doing firmware upgrades one must apply them sequentially. If a Clariion system is two generations old, customers may need to upgrade to the intermediate release before upgrading to the newest release. Though this is generally not a big deal, it does add to the length of the time needed to perform the firmware upgrade and makes it more difficult to back out of an upgrade should something go awry.