More on flashing the BIOS on a server

The following tips are from the Mailbag section of Issue #925 of our newsletter WServerNews

In the previous issue To Flash or Not To Flash (Issue #924) we examined the question of when (and when not) you should flash the BIOS of your server and firmware of server hardware components. In response to our editorial a reader named James sent us the following feedback:

Hey Mitch, might be worth mentioning to folks that if you do flash a hardware component to a later revision you should check BEFORE doing so, to see if any associated drivers will need updating . . . then you have to check revisions (BIOS & driver) of any dependent components, that your new versions are on the hardware compatibility list of the OS etc. Something so simple can get so complex! Keep up the good work on WserverNews 🙂

We also received some helpful comments from a reader named Quentin:

In some cases, the flash updates are all part of a large release from the server manufacturer – eg. Dell or HP. So you go to apply an HP Rompaq and you find you are flashing BIOS, nic firmware, scsi cards, remote access card, and every hard drive in the box all at the push of a single button. So read carefully before you accept that End User License Agreement and know what you are applying.  The server management tools like the Dell IT Assistant can report on out of date drivers/firmware/management software. If you are a Dell shop, you need to look into running this tool. It can assess servers for compliance with latest releases, download them, install them, etc. Of course similar tools are available for your HP fleet or IBM fleet. Keeping up to date on firmware can prevent many other problems from surfacing, or cure some of the gremlins you have been chasing.

One thing you may not be counting on is that sometimes in order to get support from your vendor, you will have to go do a round of updates. Updates are issued for a reason – something was not working as it should and it needed to be fixed! Don’t assume you can phone up 1-800-serversRus and they will jump to support your 5 versions out of date bios.  In many cases your server vendor will tell you to first apply those 20 firmware and driver updates before they will talk to you. Especially if you are experiencing anything that is documented in one of the firmware or driver packs.  They may already have provided you a solution in the flash release, you just need to go apply it.

I have equated firmware updates and driver updates as pretty much the same category. That is how I treat them. In many cases you will not be able to update a driver without updating firmware. In other cases, updating the firmware will cause problems with the old driver because they go hand in hand and work together. I will say that I have not had a flash failure in many years. I think manufacturers are getting better at managing these updates. For instance some servers include a redundant copy of the BIOS when you update so that you can back out a bad BIOS flash.  I consider keeping current on bios/drivers/management software one of the keys to maintaining good server uptime and reliability.

The above tip was previously published in an issue of WServerNews, a weekly newsletter from TechGenix that focuses on the administration, management and security of the Windows Server platform in particular and cloud solutions in general. Subscribe to WServerNews today by going to http://www.wservernews.com/subscribe.htm and join almost 100,000 other IT professionals around the world who read our newsletter!

Mitch Tulloch is an eleven-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award and a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud computing technologies.  Mitch is also Senior Editor of WServerNews. For more information about him see http://www.mtit.com.

 

 

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