This article will deal with updating the firmware on Dell Equallogic PS Series iSCSI SAN Arrays and other necessary components.
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In a virtualized infrastructure the name of the game is getting the most performance out of what you have. One of the key components of any virtual server environment whether it be VMware’s vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V is some form of shared storage in the form of a Storage Area Network, or SAN, where all of the data files and memory swaps for your virtual machines reside. Keeping this working at optimal speed is a must do, so like any other driver or firmware you periodically need to update them to implement vendor enhancements and bug fixes.

Equallogic iSCSI Arrays ^

In my environment we utilize Dell Equallogic PS Series iSCSI devices for our storage needs. Equallogic arrays in my opinion are a nice blend of value and performance that any systems or network administrator can learn to do basic setup and administration on in a few hours of poking around.

In terms of value with our latest addition with a fully loaded system with 10k RPM SAS drives we were able to hit a price point of about $1300 per Terabyte, trust me when I say this is very cheap when compared to comparable systems from HP or EMC. Further when looking at iSCSI versus Fiber Channel you cost is even better in that you can typically leverage your existing switched infrastructure for your storage network, simply needing to VLAN off the storage connections from the rest of your network.

Additions to the SAN with Equallogic arrays are very simple as well. In our case we started with a PS 5000 device a few years ago. As our storage needs grew (they always do) we recently added a PS 4100 to the array. As we brought the 4100 online and pointed it at the controller of the existing device it was very simple to add to the existing device pool, quadrupling our storage capacity in a matter of minutes.

Dell Equallogic SAN Headquarters

Dell Equallogic SAN Headquarters

Software for an Equallogic iSCSI environment can be thought of as split three ways. The device firmware is what powers the actual disk arrays and is where most of your enhancement via update is found. This is also what updates the basic GUI for device configuration. Second, is the client operating system integration software; for Windows or Linux (directly accessing the iSCSI from Windows or Linux) this are called the Host Integration Tools. In current versions of VMware ESXi this is called the Multipathing Extension Module, allowing for you to essentially create a mesh network between your redundant iSCSI ports on your ESXi hosts and the redundant NICs on the arrays. Finally Equallogic supplies a client/server management application called SAN Headquarters which allows you to monitor and manage your various storage groups and is overall a very handy tool to have.

Updating the firmware ^

Keeping up to date on device firmware is critical to system performance as Dell is constantly improving the product through software fixes and enhancements. The good news is that all actively supported Equallogic arrays in a given series (i.e. PS Series) will all use the exact same firmware. The actual act of updating is fairly simple and can be broken down into a few steps.

  1. Download firmware from support.equallogic.com (requires account)- Equallogic is currently maintaining two active firmware paths, the 5.x path and the 6.x path. Version 6 has some cool new features and a revised GUI but some specific applications aren’t supported. Read the release notes for both and decide what’s best for you.
    Recommended versions of Dell Equallogic Firmwarere and Software
  2. Shutdown all virtual machines or isolate VMs to other datastores- Update will require each controller to reboot to take effect. Even if you have redundant controllers there will be a quick glitch that will make your VMs crash if running. If at all possible just shut down all your VMs prior to doing the updates. If this isn’t possible you’ll need some redundant storage that you can move VMs to prior to update.
  3. Take volumes offline in your storage pool (right click, set offline in PS Manager)- No, really, you don’t want any VMs running on the devices prior to the firmware update kicking off. If you set the volumes as offline then you can be sure nothing will run there.
  4. Perform update from the GUI (in PS Manager, Members> Device > Maintenance tab, Update firmware…)- Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Once in the Update Firmware it will first ask you for your grpadmin password, then ask you to locate your update file. It will then show you the Update dialog (as shown below). Simply click the Upgrade button on one of your members and the process will begin on ALL members. When each member is done it will prompt you to restart the device. This will take a series of restarts to take effect, 1 for each controller for each device. In the example shown below with 2 members each with redundant controllers the process took about 50 minutes to finish entirely.
    Firmware Update
  5. Put Volumes back online and rescan HBAs on ESXi hosts – Now we are just starting things back up. Reverse the process you did in step 3 above and once they show as online you can then go into the VI client and tell each of your ESXi hosts to Rescan the iSCSI adapter(s). Once the volumes show as available in ESXi you can restart your VMs and be back up and running.
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7 Comments
  1. Barry Coombs 9 years ago

    This is completely wrong, the EqualLogic features uniterupted firmware updates, if your timeouts are set right and if you do it out of hours there is no need to shutdown your VMs let alone unmount your volumes.

    I would also highly recommend updating from the command line with the update command for much better feedback during the update process.

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  2. Kyle Beckman 9 years ago

    I agree with Barry. I'm running a PS-series EqualLogic SAN with two production Hyper-V clusters (2008 R2 and 2012) and a separate file server over iSCSI. I've performed multiple 5-series firmware updates without taking volumes offline. We also performed a 5-to-6 series firmware with milliseconds of downtime. The iSCSI initiators never noticed the failover to the secondary controller.

    It should also be noted that if you're wanting to take advantage of ODX in Windows Server 2012, the 6-series firmware is a requirement.

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  3. Author
    Jim Jones 9 years ago

    Barry, I have had varied results doing this, once resulting in significant data loss and the loss of a weekend restoring it. When Dell was contacted the gist of their response was "yeah, don't do that." As Kyle alluded to, in the switch over there is milliseconds of downtime, but this was enough in my case to make the running virtual machines blue screen. I'll give you both that taking the volumes offline isn't a requirement but a stop gap for me to make sure that no one starts a VM up while I'm in the process.

    The article is written from the better safe than sorry standpoint. This is how I do it, it's the process Dell spelled out for me to do it, so that's what I wrote.

    Thanks,
    Jim

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  4. Kyle Beckman 9 years ago

    Then this is a case of EQ support giving out different information to different customers. We followed the "iSCSI Initiator and Operating System Considerations" document per their recomendation, use the EQ HIT kits, iSCSI optimized our switches (and iSCSI NIC's), and use MPIO. I've never had any issues doing 'live' firmware updates.

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  5. Barry Coombs 9 years ago

    I would suggest double checking the switch configuration to ensure spanning tree portfast or equivalent is configured and double check the timeout values, I have personally installed well over 50 EqualLogic members with VMware Sphere and haven't experienced these issues.

    I have no issues with your blog post from a better safe than sorry standpoint but you don't make this clear in the blog post itself, also by having to complete the steps within your blog post in such a way the process of updating the firmware on the EqualLogic is a lot more arduous than it needs to be.

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  6. Jaymz Mynes 9 years ago

    We have had no less than 3 interruptions in our vSphere environment when updating firmware on our EqualLogic arrays. All interrupts being on different arrays at different times. Installing EqualLogic/vSphere is easy and if you have had no issues Barry great! But Dell has some serious QOS issues with their 60xx/65xx series arrays. The problem isnt those few milliseconds of failover, its the controller taking 5+ minutes to come back up. Multiple firmware release notes even state that volumes could potentially go offline. In my opinion, firmware is EQL only problem. Dell suggesting to take volumes offline just to perform updates is completely unacceptable.

    Dell actually felt compelled to do a free healthcheck for us... They crashed our entire infrastructure, but only after stalling an array like I mentioned above.

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  7. Mike Lim 7 years ago

    We use Dell Openmanage Essentials (OME) to update PowerEdge servers' BIOS, drivers, firmware. Updates can be scheduled. Very convenient...

    As we do not have EQL, any idea if OME supports EQL firmware updates?

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