Get your IBM Power Systems environment to a supported level

Moving to recent firmware and software versions brings benefits and is easier than you think

Running unsupported software or system firmware in your IBM® Power Systems™ environment can pose a significant exposure to your business. Fortunately, getting your environment to a state where IBM can support it may be easier than you think. This article looks at the components you may need to upgrade. It also points you to further information to help you get started.

Anthony English (anthonyenglish@levitar.com.au), Senior AIX Specialist, Freelance contractor

Anthony EnglishAnthony English is a freelance contractor in Sydney, Australia. He has worked on AIX systems since 1991 and writes the IBM developerWorks blog, AIX Down Under. He is also recognized as an IBM Champion for Power Systems. You can reach Anthony at anthonyenglish@levitar.com.au. Follow Anthony English on Twitter.



01 July 2013

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If you have an IBM Power Systems environment, it is important that you have adequate hardware and software support. This support not only guarantees that you have somewhere to turn if a system failure occurs but also gives you access to new releases and error fixes, which help protect you from those failures in the first place. Being up to date with the software and firmware you're running also makes it easier to move to new hardware when you need to do so.

Getting supported versions

To get your Power Systems environment to supported levels, you need to know what hardware and software you are currently running. Every Power Systems environment is different: You may have a standalone server, where all resources, such as processor and memory, are allocated to a single operating system. More often, the systems are running logical partitions (LPARs), also known as virtual machines (VMs), and allow you to partition a single server so that you can share the resources.

When you understand what is used in your environment, you can determine whether you need to upgrade to a later version by looking at the links in the Resources section. A word of warning, however, is that modern hardware and software systems can be highly interdependent. Components in your infrastructure may need to be upgraded together or upgraded in a particular order. Also, it is not possible to cover all components in this article, and therefore, I focus on the hardware, operating system, and utilities most commonly found in Power Systems environments.

Power Systems environments have several key components that you might need to upgrade. For each component, you must understand:

  • What it is for
  • Whether your version is supported
  • How you upgrade it
  • What the impact of the upgrade is

The following sections provide a checklist of the big-ticket items to look at.


Hardware Management Console

First is the IBM Hardware Management Console (HMC). In smaller environments where you have only two or three LPARs, you may not have an HMC. If you do not have an HMC, skip to the next section.

The HMC is an appliance that provides a tool for planning, deploying, and managing Power Systems servers for systems administrators. The HMC runs as an embedded application on an Intel®-based workstation. It can be connected to Power Systems servers (managed systems) and can be used to control and maintain LPARs.

Determining the HMC version

If you have access to the HMC through a browser, you can check the version by clicking Update HMC. An alternative method is to connect to the HMC command line by using Secure Shell (SSH). From there, you can display the HMC version by running the following command:

lshmc -V

Impact of HMC maintenance

Confirm that your HMC is compatible with your hardware environment and that all prerequisites are in place. These requirements depend on your HMC model and the Power Systems servers it manages. You may also need to upgrade your HMC in several steps. You can check all the prerequisites by following the documentation on the IBM Support Portal (see Resources for a link).

The good news is that if you meet the prerequisites, you do not need a full outage to upgrade your HMC. As the IBM Power Systems HMC Implementation and Usage Guide (see Resources) explains, "The HMC is independent from the server. The server and all partitions can remain active while maintenance is done on the HMC, allowing you to easily keep your HMC at the latest maintenance level."


System firmware

Power Systems firmware is part of the Licensed Internal Code that runs on a managed system. It is essential for managing the IBM PowerVM® virtualization features.

Determining the system firmware version

Determine the system firmware by running the following command on an IBM AIX® LPAR:

lsmcode

If you use HMC to manage your system, you can also view the firmware version by using the HMC graphical user interface (GUI). Simply select the server and then click Updates and View System Information.

System firmware consists of the release level and service pack. Release level is the term for firmware that supports major new functions, such as the introduction of new hardware or significant new functions or features. Moving to a new release is known as upgrade. Upgrades are invariably disruptive, which means that they require an outage in the Power Systems environment, but some service packs provide fixes and enhancements within a specific firmware release. Installation of firmware updates within the same major firmware release are called updates. If you use an HMC to manage your Power Systems servers, then you can perform firmware updates concurrently—that is, without requiring downtime on the managed system.

For Power Systems servers that are not managed by an HMC, all firmware updates as well as upgrades are disruptive. This means that the managed system will be shut down and restarted.


Integrated Virtualization Manager

Some Power Systems servers are managed by the Integrated Virtualization Manager (IVM). The IVM provides a web-based system management interface without the expense of a separate HMC. The IVM allows you to virtualize your I/O adapters through a single Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) configuration.

Note: Because the IVM runs off the VIOS itself, the upgrade procedure is covered in Updating single- and dual-VIOS configurations.


Virtual I/O Server

The VIOS is software that runs within a dedicated LPAR. It allows you to share physical resources among client LPARs within the same managed system.

Updating single- and dual-VIOS configurations

In most Power Systems configurations, the VIOS plays a critical role because client LPARs depend on it for network connectivity and storage. Systems that the IVM manages necessarily have only one VIOS. In contrast, HMC-managed systems often have a dual-VIOS configuration.

Updating the VIOS requires an outage on the VIOS itself. In a single-VIOS configuration, an outage on the VIOS means that the dependent clients will lose their connectivity to the network and to storage. You may have a single-VIOS configuration even if your system is managed by an HMC. In a dual-VIOS configuration, you should be able to upgrade one VIOS at a time with no outage to the client partitions, provided you have configured full redundancy. See Resources for a link to a more comprehensive treatment of VIOS redundancy.

When updating the VIOS, pay special attention to the upgrade release notes. The procedures can vary from one VIOS version to another, and there may be prerequisites that you need to look at as part of the upgrade process.


Upgrading AIX

It is important that your IBM AIX LPARs do not lose their software support. By keeping your AIX versions up to date, you can take advantage of PowerVM virtualization features. You can also ensure that you have the latest error fixes and service and support from IBM, should you need it.

Bringing AIX up to date within the same major release is called an update. Moving to a new major release, such as from AIX version 6.1 to version 7.1, is called a migration. Many different ways exist for updating and migrating AIX. See Resources for valuable links.


Other software, applications, and middleware

Countless different types of software can run in Power Systems environments. IBM offers a binary compatibility guarantee that enables applications created on earlier releases or technology levels of AIX to run unchanged on later releases or technology levels of AIX without the need to recompile.

If you are planning to move to a more recent, supported version of AIX, check with different software vendors to confirm that the environment you are aiming for will be fully supported.


Bringing it all together

Getting your Power Systems firmware and software up to date can be a daunting task, but when it is all at a level that can be supported, be sure to create a plan to keep the system up to date. Many new features and error fixes make keeping your environment in a state where a support contract can properly cover it worthwhile.

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