Upgrading Dell PowerEdge servers

Most Dell owners will be familiar with finding the Service Tag of a server, laptop or desktop, then to enter it at the Dell driver download page and be rewarded with a wealth of suggested patches and updates. Unfortunately, there will often be drivers and upgrades far beyond what is needed for exactly your server/laptop/desktop. And to add to the misery, unless you happen to use exactly the Windows version that Dell assume, you will probably have a difficult time, trying to get the upgrades installed.

For Dell servers however, there are some hope for the exhausted sysadm….

Recently I have had the privilege of upgrading two Dell PowerEdge servers, a 2970 and a 2900 respectively. The 2970 was running VMware ESX 4.1 and thus I managed to install the appropriate upgrades, using the CLI in ESX. Except that not all firmware upgrades were available in ESX (Linux) installers and had to be installed from a DOS boot cd.

In the end, I am not even sure, that I had everything upgraded 👿

The 2900 is running ESXi 5.1 and therefore has no CLI. New approach was needed and preferably something easier. And there is a surprisingly easy method!

  1. Download CentOS Live DVD – find your appropriate mirror site.
  2. Write iso file to a blank dvd
  3. Ensure your server is able to obtain an ip address and is internet connected
  4. Boot the server onto the CentOS
  5. Install Dell firmware update utility – see below

The use of CentOS is due to the Dell preference for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which you may not have at hand. CentOS is pretty compatible and for this purpose fully compatible.

How to install the Dell firmware update utility – in 8 lines or less:

# If proxy is needed, uncomment the next two lines and fill in as appropriate
# declare -x http_proxy="http://proxy:3128"
# declare -x ftp_proxy="http://proxy:3128"
wget -q -O - http://linux.dell.com/repo/hardware/latest/bootstrap.cgi | bash
yum install dell_ft_install
yum install $(bootstrap_firmware)
update_firmware --yes

That’s it! The last command 'update_firmware --yes' will detect what firmware updates are needed and install as necessary. Total downtime should be less than 30 minutes, if you have prepared as described above.

Update: Some updates are done, using the internal flash memory as a temporary boot device, e. g. the BIOS firmware update. Therefore the server must be rebooted and not powered off, after an update.

Update II (Sep. 19th 2012): I first performed this on an older PowerEdge 2900. Due to its age, it had only few updates of recent date. I just updated a much newer R610 and found that the Dell repository for the above update procedure, is some what out of date. 👿 So don’t expect to get the newest firmware, if your server is of recent date, but you’re still able to get a very precise inventory of your server from the above procedure and then use that inventory to identify the exact right upgrades for your server and then download them manually from Dell Support.

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