Update Your Firmware: Keep the Gnomes on Track

NOTE: This topic is part of the Uptime Information Hub.


Drive firmware can be thought of as small gnomes embedded in the drives in your cluster. They quietly and efficiently go about their business to ensure that drive hardware works properly. However, the gnomes can be thrown off their game when you add new drive models to nodes. Keeping the drive firmware consistently upgraded greatly helps to protect your drives, keeps the gnomes on track, and therefore ensures consistent, stable cluster performance.


Wait, what’s firmware?

Firmware can be generally described as “software that makes hardware function.” For example, the firmware in a TV remote control detects the buttons you’re pressing and translates that input in order to communicate with the TV.

When do I upgrade my drive firmware?

As a general rule, you should upgrade your drive firmware whenever an update is available. If EMC issues an EMC Technical Advisory (ETA) related to your drives’ specific firmware version, this means that the issue is severe and that you should update as soon as possible.


As of OneFS 7.2.0, if you have the most current Isilon Drive Support Package installed on your cluster, OneFS automatically checks for and installs drive firmware updates when replacement drives are added to a node.

Why should I upgrade my drive firmware?

As with any form of software, firmware can contain bugs—and some of these aren’t discovered until the drives are released to the field. When issues are found and reported to the drive manufacturer, the manufacturer issues a firmware update. After EMC Isilon extensively tests the update to ensure that it meets our quality and performance standards, we incorporate it into an updated version of our drive firmware and drive support packages for customers to download. To be clear: EMC Isilon does not write drive firmware; we only bundle it into packages for simple installation, much the same as your local sandwich shop does not grow the tomatoes they put in your BLT. By installing these packages and running a drive firmware update, you’ll improve the stability and security of the drives in your node, and you’ll avoid known performance or stability issues in the future.


For an example of a firmware issue that caused critical stability issues requiring an immediate drive firmware update, see ETA 193819: EMC Isilon nodes: Mars-K+ drives may stop responding and be automatically smartfailed from Isilon node, article 193819 on the EMC Online Support site.

How do I upgrade my drive firmware?

By installing the most current drive firmware package or drive support package for the version of OneFS running on your cluster and then running the command to update drive firmware. You can find these packages by logging into the EMC Support site and searching for the firmware for the drive types in your nodes. Detailed instructions for updating the drive firmware in your cluster by using a drive firmware package or drive support package can be found in the release notes documents accompanying these packages.


The Drive Firmware Package update process is disruptive because it takes the node offline, installs the update on all affected drives in a node simultaneously, and then reboots the node. Only one node is updated at a time, so there is no cluster downtime, but client connectivity to the node being updated is disrupted until the node finishes rebooting. This process can be used on any type of node. After the update process is complete, you should uninstall the Drive Firmware Package.


The Drive Support Package update process installs the update on one drive at a time, without requiring any node shutdown or reboot. This process works only on all EMC Isilon-branded S, X, NL, and HD nodes and the legacy IQ108NL node running OneFS versions 7.1.1 and newer. The Drive Support Package will continue to reside on the cluster after the update process is complete, and cannot be uninstalled.


For more information, see the Isilon Drive Support Package and Isilon Drive Firmware Package release notes on the EMC Online Support site.