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Keeping Up to Date with Adapter and Device Firmware

Keeping Up to Date with Adapter and Device Firmware

One area of system maintenance that sometimes slips under the radar is firmware for I/O adapters and devices. Also known as microcode, it differs from the system firmware, which allows your Power System to boot and provides the interface between the OS and the hardware.

Adapter firmware is relevant to adapters for Fibre Channel, SAS and SAS RAID, SCSI, and Ethernet. And device firmware is for devices such as SAS or SCSI disks, DVD drives, tape drives and tape libraries.

Functionality, Fixes and Performance

There are good reasons for keeping your adapter and device firmware up to date. You may need to update them in order to take advantage of new functions. For example, you might have to update Fibre Channel adapter firmware to add boot support for a device, or to connect to a switch that wasn’t available when the adapter was first installed with its original firmware.

Firmware updates often include important fixes to problems discovered in the laboratory or as a result of customer support calls. If you leave the firmware at an old level, a problem might come to the surface at a time when you are least ready for it. That could mean an emergency upgrade of the firmware, or even having to recover from an OS crash caused by a firmware bug. But by taking a proactive approach to adapter and device firmware, you can protect your systems from such problems.

Sometimes new firmware includes some significant performance benefits as well. That's reason enough to look at a firmware upgrade.

If you're still not sure, the IBM Support Portal firmware download page can help. It classifies firmware under “Impact” and “Severity.” For more on these terms, check out this glossary of firmware terms.

Most importantly, be sure to check the firmware documentation. When installing a new adapter or device, it's critical to know if its firmware will be supported and will run with your existing levels of AIX, Power Systems hardware, storage area network, network, applications, etc.

Anthony English is an AIX specialist based in Sydney, Australia.

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