Best Practise BIOS patching on Sun Intel and AMD x86 systems

Best Practise maintain BIOS for Sun Intel and AMD x86 systems

( a follow on from the SPARC firmware blog )

History

For many Solaris system administrators a BIOS didn't exist un recently because the vast majority where on SPARC systems and they had the OBP ( I'll not bore everyone with the long version of how simply awesome this was 18 years ago when I first saw the OK prompt and typed boot net )

But today Solaris is multi platform, Solaris x86 is not a poor relation to Solaris on SPARC, they are feature for feature equals, Xeon and AMD boxes grown from single socket, single thread, single core babies with pretty simple firmware / BIOS aka Basic Input/Output System. Today's x86 platforms are far from simple and have grown into pretty powerful beasts, take the x4600 with 8 Sockets Quad Core Opteron or the x4150 Quad Socket Quad socket Xeon. The BIOS to manage a 32 core x4600 is understandably a more complex beast than that your IBM PC of yesteryear and so having the right BIOS and right BIOS settings for your platform is critical to get the best from your x86 box.

What does this mean to a Solaris Admin on Sun Xeon & Opteron platforms ?

It simply means that as part of your Solaris Patch Policy you should always include updating your BIOS as well as the Solaris Patches. The are a number of pretty compelling reasons why.

  1. BIOS releases contain the latest microcode patches from Intel and AMD. Microcode is in effect a set of instruction loaded in a CPU to workaround hardware bugs.

  2. Sun updates the configuration of a BIOS to optimize it for the system to provide optimum performance. I recently tested two Quad core Xeon boxes from two vendors and while the had the same CPUs and memory there was a 40% difference in performance due to one having sub optimal settings with the SPECjbb2005 benchmark.

  3. QA teams across Solaris and the Systems group test up-coming releases of Solaris Updates, Nevada and OpenSolaris use the latest released BIOS for testing. Aligning with this, aligns your own software stack with the most tested and trusted Sun stack. BIOS problems can be very hard to diagnose and so limiting your exposure to them is a good idea ( read as lazy but smart )

  4. Its is easier to stay current . Upgrading from minor release to minor release is really safe and painless while going from a very old release may require you to do a number of intermediate upgrades, and of course this will happen when you least need additional work. And remember with all Sun servers you can upgrade from the SP.

  5. Your new Sun box may not come with the latest BIOS installed, an issue we are addressing ( please bear with us ) so even new systems can benefit from checking to ensure you are current.

How do I find out what my firmware release is on my X4150 ?

On your systems Service Processor

ssh oaf413-sc

root@oaf413-sc's password:

Sun Microsystems Embedded Lights Out Manager

Copyright 2006 Sun Microsystems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Firmware Version: 4.0.10

SMASH Version: v1.1

Hostname: SUNSP001B2493C5CC

IP address: 192.1.2.81

MAC address: 00:1B:24:93:C5:CC

-> show SP



/SP

Targets:

users

network

clock

AgentInfo

TftpUpdate

CPLDUpdate



Properties:

Firmwareversion = 4.0.10

Timeout = 300

CPLDVersion = 063



Target Commands:

show

cd

set

reset



Or for those old guard you can look at the system boot ;)

Details on how to log into your SC are included on docs.sun.com and the documentation supplied with each system.

How do I find out where the latest version of Sun System BIOS are ?

I find the fastest way is to use Sun System Handbook ( All seems familiar and common sense ? Good )

Select Servers in the first drop down box.

The select “x4150” on the 2nd.

And this pretty page jumps ups

http://sunsolve.sun.com/handbook_pub/validateUser.do?target=Systems/SunFireX4150/SunFireX4150

http://www.sun.com/servers/x64/x4150/downloads.jsp

And follow the instructions to download.

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