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EMC Clariion firmware upgrades include hidden gems

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.

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You're right - newer versions of the CLARiiON FLARE code do contain some nice new features. However, I just wanted to correct the statement you made in your last paragraph about upgrading from older generations of FLARE. Most CLARiiON arrays can be upgraded from FLARE release 14 directly to release 24 or 26 without any interim steps. For instance, a CX500 could go from FLARE 14, 16, 17 or 19 directly to FLARE 24 or 26 without any issue. There are some caveats depending on the array model and whether or not it contains any ATA shelves, etc. But for the most part, there really isn't any extra time involved. Of course, the CX200, CX400 and CX600 can only support up to FLARE 19. If you're still running one of these older arrays, you're probably paying too much for maintenance and missing out on all the new bells & whistles. Bite the bullet and purchase a fancy new CX3! :-)
Just a quick follow up comment... I have to take off my "engineer hat" and remember that customers don't always have the same access as service folks do. If I'm not mistaken, a customer cannot upgrade directly from FLARE 14 to 24 or 26, but an Engineer can. However, I think customers are still OK to go from 16, 17 or 19 to 24 or 26 without any special access.
You are not kidding in saying upgrading from two versions back is a painstaking effort. A year or so ago I had the opportunity to do just that. We had CX600's that were running FLARE 13 that were experiencing issues with consistently loosing many drives every week or so. Of course support kept telling us that we needed to get to the current release and the issue should go away. Current release at that time was 19 which meant we had to actually do 2 upgrades. The first to 14 and then another to 19. The FLARE upgrade was no big deal...however, upgrading/updating all of the attached servers was an excrutiatingly slow process. We had about 200 servers of varying OS's, Solaris, Linux, HP-UX, Windows, VMWare, Novell. Did I mention that we were a healthcare facility? We were not allowed ANY downtime...even for upgrades. And every application was considered critical? Well aren't they all? Anyway the upgrading of all the servers was the big issue as we had to schedule downtimes not only for the server updates/upgrades of PowerPath, Navisphere, HBA firmware and drivers and while we were at it any OS patches needed. But then againlater on to do the actual FLARE upgrades themselves. I tell you what...after that experience, never again will I ever allow any equipment I am responsible for get behind in it's code. By the way...the disk issues did not go away and it was found that they were being caused by back end issues related to the LCC (link control cards) and cabling. More downtime to replace those as well. Go figure...
Hi all. Very good topic but I'd like to know how to upgrade the firmware of a clariion CX3-20F from to or later