Upgrading Dell Firmware

When I upgraded my home lab to ESXi 5.0 I ran into an issue with a server and one of the troubleshooting steps was to upgrade the firmware. Due to limited time, I opted to manually download and apply individual firmware packages as needed. Recently, I decided to overhaul my entire home lab, which runs on Dell PowerEdge servers, and as part of the process I decided to find the vendor supported way of checking for and applying firmware packages automatically. This is my story…

OMSA – unsupported
Initially I downloaded the OMSA as I have used it in the past. While not officially supported, I found this article online that said you could update firmware using the Live CD. I tried the steps outlined, but the executables were not in my path so I decided to move onto something supported.
Next I came across SBUU. After burning the ISO and booting my system I was able to find the firmware update section. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to navigate the system without using a mouse so I had to go find one and plug it in. Upon selecting the firmware update section I was asked for a repository that had the updates. To my disappointment, an online option was not available. A quick Google search turned up SUU. This 5GB behemoth delayed my firmware updating capabilities by several hours as the Dell download is extremely slow. The good news is SBUU is smart enough to copy the ISO to memory (thus the painfully slow boot time) so the disk can be removed and the SUU ISO can be inserted. Unfortunately, you must select the CD repository option and wait for it to time out and eject the CD before you can swap it.
With the SUU I began the upgrade procedure. After selecting the SUU repository the system came back with a comparison report of what firmware version I was running and what the latest version available was. Of the six components the server had five needed updates. Unfortunately, from this screen I was unable to determine how to update the firmware. The only options were Back and SBUU Home. As I had just come from SBUU I did not want to return home. After consulting the SBUU documentation I learned that SBUU Home was actually the option I wanted. Not very intuitive if you ask me.
Upon selecting the SBUU Home option I was sent to an even more confusing screen. Per the documentation I was told to select Apply/Export Configuration and then Apply/Export. Finally I was brought to a screen that made it appear like I would be able to upgrade the firmware. The process made it to Checking for Firmware Updates… (5%) and stayed there for a really long time. Eventually it failed at 5% saying Deployment failed due to: Firmware Update failed.
All I could think about was, “PC Load Letter….wtf does that mean???” (Office Space reference)
The only option available was reboot. I decided to stay on the screen and contact Dell Online Support to see if any logs could/needed to be collected. Once on with support they asked if I had selected all updates or only one at a time. I told them all. They then asked if the BIOS was one of the updates and if I had applied it by itself. I said it was one of the updates, but it was part of the all I was attempting to update. The suggestion was to update just the BIOS first and see if that worked. As such, I selected the reboot option. To my surprise the system displayed a message saying:

Attempting BIOS update; please wait
System will power off for a fews seconds and then restart if update is successful

So it looked like at least some of the updates worked! Upon automatic reset of the system my BIOS had been upgraded. Excellent, now back into SBUU to see what other updates may have succeeded and what was left.
On round two I learned that two of the five updates had applied successfully. Looking at the two that were updated it appears the updates are applied alphabetically. Based on this assumption it would appear the BIOS upgrade is what triggered the failure. I attempted to apply the three remaining ones. Again the system hung at 5% Checking for Firmware Updates… this time I timed how long the check took. After 20 minutes the server rebooted. Unfortunately, I missed the message, but since it rebooted I assume the updates were successful. To be sure I booted into SBUU one more time to check. Success, all firmware was updated! I am sure glad it worked, because the Dell support rep told me if it did not I would need to select each update one at a time and see which one(s) were failing. Given that the upgrade time takes over 30 minutes that could have significantly wasted the rest of my day. For those interested, if one of the updates was failing the suggestion was to download the update manually and put on a USB stick then boot into OMSA, transfer the update and apply – even more painful.
All-in-all I must say the Dell upgrade procedure is horrible. I am glad that I have no plans to upgrade any additional Dell systems in the future. I would gladly take the HP procedure, but I am happy to say I work mostly with UCS for the time being and that procedure rocks! Good luck to all. I hope this information helps, but as always I am not responsible if anything happens to your system 🙂

© 2013, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.

3 comments on “Upgrading Dell Firmware

luefher says:

Very true – I’m updating my R415 and it’s stuck on 5%… would not be sure if its hung or still working, if not for an occasional whirling of fans. It rebooted just now, when all hope was “lost” 🙂 Thanks for heads up on time!

Thanks for the comment and I am glad you found this post helpful!

luefher says:

And just like you described – as I selected all available upgrades initially – two were not installed after booting back into SBUU. This time, however, it rebooted quite fast.

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