Legacy Upgrade: Dell EqualLogic PS4100X

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This article is all about upgrading a legacy Dell EqualLogic PS4100X iSCSI array to the latest available firmware release using the Dell Storage Update Manager.

Overview

This specific array was running firmware version 7.1.9 (R417729) and required a firmware upgrade to the latest available release which, at moment of writing, is version 9.1.4.

The array consisted of a single unit with a dual controller for redundancy.

A cluster of three VMware ESXi 6.5 hosts are consuming volumes on this array, each with two physical NICs for iSCSI traffic (MPIO).

Assessment

While assessing the necessary upgrade steps, it seemed that a direct in-place upgrade was not possible. Multiple upgrades were required when looking at the Dell documentation.

Gladly, the Storage Update Manager tool figures out exactly which steps you need to take before ending up on the version you want to. The Storage Update Manager is included in the SanHQ software, used for managing your EqualLogic array.

I’ve used the following order, based on documentation and Storage Update Manager:

  1. Upgrade to SanHQ 3.2
  2. Upgrade disk firmware to V10.0.0
  3. Upgrade FW to V8.1.13
  4. Upgrade FW to V9.0.9
  5. Upgrade FW to V9.1.4
  6. Upgrade to SanHQ 3.3

SanHQ upgrades are not included in Storage Update Manager, but the rest is.

All the required software files are available through Dell’s EqualLogic support website here. You will need a valid support contract to access this content.

When running through the wizard, you can point to a folder where you saved the disk and array firmware files. It will automatically detect and verify if you’ve got the right files in there before continuing with the upgrade wizard.

DellUpdateManager

The Storage Update Manager displays exactly which steps are required in between. And even better; it performs them for you! You just need to click next!

Upgrade and Impact

My experience with the Storage Update Manager is phenomenal! It ran without any issues or strange errors.

The disk firmware upgrades happened without any impact on the environment and was finished very quickly.

The array firmware upgrades were a bit different. The first upgrade from 7.1.9 to 8.1.13 caused a pretty long disconnect of all volumes. This was expected and caused by the controller failover from active to standby.

Also expected, was the fact that ESXi is a master in iSCSI caching. I believe the total time iSCSI traffic was halted was around 60 seconds. During this time, I noticed a ping timeout to the storage array (group IP) and eventually also to one of the VMs I was trying to ping.

After the group IP got back up, storage connectivity was also restored and all VMs started to respond again.

This impact was only noticed during the V8.1.13 upgrade. There was no impact noticed during the V9.0.9 and V9.1.4 upgrades.

The Storage Update Manager offers you a “Restart” button after each successful upgrade, to give you full control during your maintenance window.

The total time I required to upgrade this array using the Storage Update Manager was around 2 hours.

Snapshot-Surprise

After finishing the array upgrades, we noticed storage snapshots appearing on each volume on the array. Strange, because this is something we never configured.

It appears that starting from V9.x, these storage snapshots are automatically created at 00:00 AM based on the **default** snapshot policy for all volumes that have snapshot reserved space configured.

It’s a feature, not a bug (Dell) but we still decided to disable this.

To do this, you can simply remove the created snapshots and configure each volume with 0% snapshot reserved space.

Another option is using the Group CLI:

GrpName> grpparams default-snapshot-sched  ?

disable              - Disables the default snapshot schedule.
enable               - Enables the default snapshot schedule.
show                  - Displays the current values of the default snapshot schedule.
start-time         - Set the default snapshot schedule's start time.

Conclusion and Best Practices

I think the Storage Update Manager by Dell is an awesome tool! And I would definitely use it again in the future if I can!

Before upgrading, make sure you make an additional backup, or at least check if the most recent backup is sufficient to meet your RPO objectives. Better safe than sorry!

Also make sure you have all the right firmware files in place (check the plan in the Storage Update Manager). If you don’t have these, you need to download them prior to starting which involves unnecessary delays.

If you’ve got monitoring enabled for the environment you are upgrading, make sure you set the right systems in “downtime” or “maintenance mode” to prevent false positives in your monitoring system.

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