Painless Dell FX2 Firmware Upgrade

Overview

Recently I’ve had a chance to play with Dell’s FX2 chassis for a bit. Dell FX2 falls into the category of blade chassis and can hold up to 8 blades with Atom or 4 blades with Xeon CPUs in a 2U chassis.

Dell_FX2

Besides the compute blades FX2 also supports storage blades, which you can dedicate to particular compute blades and use as additional storage.

On the networking side you can choose from either pass-through modules or three types of I/O aggregators – four 10G SFP+ ports, four 10GBASE-T ports, or two Fibre Channel plus two SFP+ external ports.

The chassis itself also comes in two flavors – FX2 or FX2s. The main difference between the two is that FX2s additionally has PCIe slots at the back, which can be mapped to the server blades to provide additional connectivity.

Dell_FX2_Rear

First step of every hardware solution deployment is a firmware upgrade. But when it comes to firmware on Dell blade equipment be it M1000e, VRTX or FX2 you can quickly get confused. Especially when you go to the blade section and see a dozen of hardware components. Download and update each of them individually would be daunting. Fortunately there is an better way.

blade_firmware

CMC Firmware

Upgrade starts from the chassis management controller, which has two components: Chassis Infrastructure Firmware (or Main Board) and the CMC itself. You can find them on the Chassis Overview > Update tab.

CMC firmware comes as an .exe package, which you can extract. You really need just the fx2_cmc.bin file. During upgrade you will lose access to CMC for 5-10 minutes, while CMC is rebooting.

For the infrastructure firmware you’ll need the fx2_mainboard.bin file. The gotcha with the infrastructure firmware upgrade is that you’ll need all blades to be powered off. So if you have just one chassis this might be tricky.

Blade Firmware

Blades firmware is where this gets interesting. You can certainly upgrade all blades from the CMC by downloading firmware from the Dell support web-site and choosing one component at a time in Chassis Overview > Server Overview > Update section. CMC is capable of upgrading say iDRAC across all blades simultaneously, but it’s still about a dozen components.

The easier approach would be to use Dell Repository Manager (DRM). DRM can download firmware for virtually any blade or rack server (including some of the storage and network hardware) and build a bootable ISO image for an easy upgrade.

To build a bootable ISO follow the following steps:

  • Download and install Dell Repository Manager from the Dell support web-site
  • Add a source by going to Source > View Dell Online Catalog
  • Create a repository by going to Repository > New > Create New Repository
  • In the wizard select your hardware (I selected PowerEdge FC630 from the Blade category) and choose Linux (32-bit and 64-bit) as a DUP format (I’ll explain that later).
  • Go to the newly created repository, select the bundle and click Export

export_bundle

DRM can export bundles in multiple forms, we are interested in a bootable ISO and this is why we selected the Linux DUP format when we created the repository. DRM creates a Linux bootable ISO, so there was no point selecting Windows bundles.

  • Select “Create Bootable ISO (Linux Only)” and continue with the default settings for the rest

As a result you will get an .iso file, which you can mount to the server via iDRAC Remote Console and boot from it for a firmware upgrade.

Network I/O Aggregators

FX2 I/O aggregators are Dell Force10 switches, which use Force10 OS (FTOS). FTOS firmware is NOT available from the Dell web-site. You’ll need to register an account at https://www.force10networks.com to download the firmware.

Make sure to download firmware release specifically built for FX2 I/O aggregators, which can be found in M-Series Software section.

aggregators_firmware

To upgrade the aggregators go to Chassis Overview > I/O Module Overview > Update. Aggregators reset after a reboot, so make sure to upgrade them one at a time. Or if you stacked them instead of using VLT or standalone mode, you’ll have to have a downtime, as stacked switches reboot together.

Conclusion

There is nothing fancy in upgrading firmware on a blade chassis, you want it to be quick and painless. Make sure to use Dell Repository Manager for blades upgrade. It may save you heaps of time and make your life easier.

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One Response to “Painless Dell FX2 Firmware Upgrade”

  1. Dell Repository Manager: Bootable ISO Issues | Niktips's Blog Says:

    […] one of my previous posts I described the process of upgrading a Dell FX2 chassis firmware using Dell Repository Manager […]

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