Why And How To Update The HMC
November 3, 2015 Larry Bolhuis
I deliver a session on the HMC to many user groups, including COMMON. Attendance had been falling, so COMMON’s education team had decided to give the session just one more go. This time though I walked into a packed house, with people carrying in chairs and standing along the walls! “What brings you all here at 8 a.m.?” I asked. “You’re going to talk about updating the HMC, right?” was the response. You see IBM had just announced POWER6 severs, and that mandated newer code on the HMC.
Some of you may wonder what an HMC is, so let’s step back and cover a few basics. HMC is an acronym for Hardware Management Console, a closed Linux-based appliance designed with three primary duties. First up is to manage the firmware levels of your Power Systems, as Pete Massiello discussed recently. Its second duty is to manage the configuration of servers, including creating and managing partitions. Its third, and often most loved, use is to be the console for all partitions. While there are other options for consoles on Power Systems, the fact that the HMC console can be accessed remotely adds a second layer of security to that console and allows those consoles to be shared.
Years ago IBM delivered the POWER5 server, and with it the HMC. We installed them together and then promptly ignored the HMC, almost to death. Back in those POWER5 days we did less with the HMC and managed fewer systems with it. Today, the HMC is becoming more and more popular, and with the announcement of HMC as a virtual machine (VM) in 8.8.4, this trend will only accelerate. Since the HMC is based on Linux, it suffers like other Linux appliances because it uses open source components, which need continual updating for various discovered vulnerabilities. Browsers are updated as often as daily in many cases to correct issues and vulnerabilities. All of this just adds to the reasons for keeping it up to date. Want another one? In Pete Massiello’s last article, he talked about keeping your firmware up to date, and if there is a single most important reason to update your HMC, it’s because you intend to update your firmware! I rest my case.
So where do we start? Let’s see which software version you are currently running. On your HMC, click on “Updates” in the Navigation Pane (the left side.) As shown in the picture below, your current HMC Code level will be displayed at the top of the right side. The version number, the release number, and any service packs applied are shown. Finally any additional fixes (PTFs) applied will be shown if you hover over the “Additional Info” link. Here you can see that two fixes have been applied to SP1.
What version should you be on? I’m a consultant, so you know the answer already: It depends! There are a lot of little divisions, but the first and most important is the version number. If you have any POWER5 servers still in your data center, then you must not upgrade to Version 8. If you do, your HMC will disconnect any POWER5 servers permanently. This isn’t a “not supported” situation, either. It’s a “won’t work”, so don’t do it! Conversely, if you have any POWER8 servers, then you must upgrade to Version 8 or your HMC will not connect. Hopefully you’re not stuck in no man’s land with both POWER5 and POWER8 servers and only a single HMC.
That’s the only binary decision here. After that, you generally want to be at the latest HMC version–7 or 8–as your Power Systems allow. I say generally because your HMC’s age may dictate that a particular level is the latest supported. How do you know? Read on.
IBM provides both updates to and documentation for the HMC from Fix Central, found atwww.ibm.com/support/fixcentral. Select from the dropdown menu as shown below for the version you are updating or wish to update to.
Here we have selected the current version 184.108.40.206 (or Version 8 Release 8.3.0). From there, you will get a list as shown below. This list can be confusing so give it a look for a moment. The list begins with the most current service pack. Here we see service pack one. Below that is a twistie for requisite fixes. If you open it, it shows the base release, which is also shown below in item 2. It’s important to understand this “double vision.” I have seen people order everything in the list, which can mean downloading as much as four times what’s actually needed!
If you are already on 8.8.3, you do not need to download that again. When Service Pack 2 is released, you won’t need to download Service Pack 1 because they are cumulative, and you only need to install the latest. As with IBM i “CUMes,” there are fixes to apply to the service pack, and that is shown in the Patched By section below. Here we can see MH01565 displayed.
Any questions on what’s fixed or what hardware is needed? Click on the “Description” link below each item. For the release notes, the link below the “HMC Recovery” media is the closest thing to IBM i’s Memo to Users. It clearly describes functions added, changes made, and hardware required to support any HMC version.
Chicken? Egg? Wait! What? Which do I update first: my firmware or my HMC? IBM provides a table that discusses which firmware versions support which HMCs, but the simple rule is this: A current HMC can access old firmware while an old HMC level may not be able to access new firmware. So update your HMC first and you’ll stay out of trouble.
Here’s another critical rule. If you have more than one HMC managing the same Power system, keep them both at the same code level. Once a newer HMC code level connects, it may update storage in the Flexible Service Processor (FSP), rendering the older HMC unable to manage it. Keeping them in sync will avoid this issue.
The actual process of updating the HMC itself is not difficult. Like IBM i, make backups before and after the updates. Backups are done from the HMC Management menu with the Back Up Management Console Data option. If you are upgrading from, say Version 8.1 to Version 8.3, then you will also do the Save Upgrade Data option. Once your backups are completed, you’ll need to take one of two actions. For an update, click the Update HMC button, shown above. For an upgrade, boot the upgrade media from DVD or USB. You may also utilize the network upgrade option described in the cover letter for the release. This, I might add, is my favorite upgrade method, and I have used it to upgrade many HMCs that I have never actually seen.
Of course, HMC upgrades bring much more than just support for new Power Systems hardware and fixes for various exploits and browser issues. New functions continue to appear, and with version 8, entire new interfaces are delivered.
The bottom line here is that you need to treat your HMC as if it’s another computer in your server room, because it is! Like every computer it needs care and feeding, and updates and backups are an important part of that. In a future article we’ll discuss security of the HMC.