Frequently Asked Questions About Sun System Firmware


  1. What Is Firmware?
  2. Does Firmware Need to Be Updated Periodically?
  3. I never needed to update the OpenBoot (OBP) firmware on my old server. Why is Sun System Firmware on T-series servers different?
  4. What information is provided in the System Firmware patch README files?
  5. Why are there so many Bug's listed in the System Firmware patch README files?
  6. Where Do I Get Firmware Patches?
  7. What Is Meant by a "Firmware Patch"?
  8. How Can I Determine What Firmware Version Is Installed on My Sun Server?
  9. How Are Sun Server Firmware Updates Accessed by Customers?
  10. What Is the Relationship of Patch-ID to Sun Firmware MINOR/MICRO Versions?
  11. How Can I Determine Whether There Are Updates for My Sun Server?
  12. Can I Downgrade My Sun Server System Firmware?
  13. Do I Need to Reboot My Sun Server After Upgrading the Firmware?
  14. What has changed with Firmware patches starting in April 2013?
  15. What are Hardware Programmables?

1. Q: What Is Firmware?

A: Firmware is essentially software that is embedded on a hardware device and directly controls it (resets, initializes and configures) before the operating system (for example, the Oracle Solaris Operating System, Linux, or Microsoft Windows) is booted. The firmware is what actually boots the OS, and it is usually contained in some sort of Flash PROM on a system board.

Unlike an OS, which is designed to run on lots of different configurations of hardware and occupies a lot of room (10's or 100's of megabytes) on the disk, firmware is usually space-constrained to a few megabytes (sometimes less than that), so it usually contains only the code needed for that specific hardware configuration. That is why each Sun Server gets its own separate release of firmware. Firmware specific to one type of server system will usually not function on a different server system.


2. Q: Does Firmware Need to Be Updated Periodically?

A: All Sun Servers ship with firmware already installed on them from the factory. However, like any piece of software, Oracle is constantly improving its firmware over time, even after a system has started shipping. So, yes, there are situations when updating the firmware on your system is recommended. Some of these reasons include:

  • Support for new versions of hardware (or peripherals)
  • Expanded compatibility and enhancements
  • Better reliability and system availability
  • Better system performance
  • Additional system features
  • Security fixes
  • Other bug fixes


Often, Sun Servers might be power-cycled or rebooted only a few times per year, so you might think new firmware is not needed if the current system works fine and the configuration has not changed. If so, then there may be no reason to update your firmware.


3. Q: I never needed to update the OpenBoot (OBP) firmware on my old server. Why is Sun System Firmware on T-series servers different?

A: Today's Sun System Firmware on the SPARC T-Series line of products, includes the virtualization engine (Hypervisor). After the Oracle Solaris OS has booted, the Sun Server System Firmware is still operating, unlike in the past with OBP, which did little after the OS was booted.


The Oracle VM Server for SPARC (LDoms) virtualization feature depends on the Hypervisor running in the System Firmware and the Oracle VM Server for SPARC Manager software to operate, in addition to requiring the latest improvements at the Oracle Solaris OS level. The virtualization feature sets in Oracle Solaris are closely tied to the corresponding releases of the Hypervisor in System Firmware. Along with new features you also get bug fixes and performance improvements. If you need to update or patch your Oracle Solaris OS, then you should also be upgrading your System Firmware.


4. Q: What information is provided in the System Firmware patch README files?

A: Every Sun Server System Firmware release includes a patch README file that describes what changes have been made in this firmware release. The README will contain a standard header area, and also the following sections of note:

  • BugId's fixed with this patch:
    This section includes a full list of all bugs associated with the base patch-ID, starting from the -01 version. The bugs are usually sorted in numerical order to make them easier to scan through.
  • Changes incorporated in this version:
    Bugs listed here are a subset of the "BugID's fixed with this patch" and include only the bugs delivered in the latest dash-roll of the base patch-ID.
  • Problem Description:
    This section also lists the same bugs from the "BugID's fixed with this patch" section, except they are broken out by the dash-roll increments and also they are listed one bug per line with the Synopsis included.
  • Special Install Instructions:
    This section will include a series of Notes, some of which are standard for Sun System Firmware, such as:
    • Firmware component revisions included with this release - lists the release version and all component versions.
    • Advice on compatibility with the Oracle VM Server for SPARC (LDoms) feature.
    • Pointer to any Open Source components.

It is recommended that you always review these Notes before installing the System Firmware on your server.


5. Q: Why are there so many Bug's listed in the System Firmware patch README files?

A: There are two answers to this question. First, the number of bug fixes is higher for Sun Server System Firmware than some older server systems because the firmware itself has far more functionality than prior systems, as noted above. The more functionality, the higher the bug fix count is going to be, on average, from release to release.


Second, Sun System Firmware uses a common source base for all of the Sun CMT server systems. The Bugs Fixed list in the README for a given system will include bug fixes that are specific to that system, as well as bug fixes that are known to be relevant to more than one (or all) systems, and as the number of supported systems grows, the number of shared bugs grows as well. It is impractical to fully describe the relevance of each bug fix to a given system, so we list all bugs that are either known to be relevant or otherwise in known common code, under the theory that more disclosure is better than less. That said, we do exclude bug fixes known to be specific to a given system from the README list of all other types of systems.


6. Q: Where Do I Get Firmware Patches?

A: Firmware is available for download from My Oracle Support under the Patches and Updates tab. Use the Product or Family (Advanced) Search to enter in your Sun Server name into the Product field and then hit the Search button. You will be required to have a valid Oracle Support contract or Hardware Warranty before being entitled to obtain access to firmware updates. More information on Oracle Hardware Systems Support Policies is available from Oracle.


7. Q: What Is Meant by a "Firmware Patch"?

A: This is an often misunderstood concept! The term "patch" has dual meanings:
 
  • In the Oracle Solaris OS, a "patch" is a way of changing a small section of a release, without replacing the whole thing.
  • A "patch" is also just a term for describing any update that is delivered through the My Oracle Support site.


So, while all Oracle Solaris patches are delivered with a patch-ID as an identifier, not all patches deliver things that are actually Oracle Solaris patches. In fact, a patch could be a simple text file with a favorite cake recipe (to use a silly example). There is no limitation on the type, number or purpose of "thing" released by a given patch-ID.

So, in the case of Sun Server firmware, each release is a complete, self-contained and fully functional image that completely replaces the image being upgraded. There is no such thing as a partial upgrade when it comes to Sun Server firmware. Thus, for each separate firmware release, Oracle packages up a zip file, including a README, various legal and documentation support files, the complete binary replacement image, and often the Oracle Solaris utility used to download the release to your target system. Oracle never releases anything less than a complete fully functional firmware image, so the first definition of "patch" listed previously has no meaning for Sun Server firmware.


8. Q: How Can I Determine What Firmware Version Is Installed on My Sun Server?

A: The Install.info file included with each firmware release provides information on how to determine what firmware component revisions are installed on your Sun Server.


9. Q: How Are Sun Server Firmware Updates Accessed by Customers?

A: Oracle provides firmware patches for downloading at the My Oracle Support site. You will be required to have a valid Oracle Support contract or Hardware Warranty before being entitled to obtain access to firmware updates. More information on Oracle Hardware Systems Support Policies is available from Oracle.


10. Q: What Is the Relationship of Patch-ID to Sun Firmware MINOR/MICRO Versions?

A: SunSolve Patch-IDs consist of a 6-digit number followed by a dash and a two-digit number ( XXXXXX-YY). The 6-digit number is the base number of the patch, and the two-digit number (-YY) is the revision of that patch. Each new Patch-ID always starts with version -01.


For most OBP and Sun Server System Firmware (SysFW) releases, Oracle dedicates a single SunSolve base patch-ID to a single MINOR release family of a single server system. For example, the Sun Fire T1000 server has had releases spanning six minor versions, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Sun Fire T1000 Server Minor Versions

Sun Fire T1000 SysFW Minor Releases
SunSolve Patch Base ID
SysFW 6.1.x
122431-xx
SysFW 6.2.x
123481-xx
SysFW 6.3.x
124751-xx
SysFW 6.4.x
126400-xx
SysFW 6.5.x
127577-xx
SysFW 6.6.x
136928-xx
SysFW 6.7.x
139435-xx

Although several other server systems have released SysFW 6.7 versions, no other server uses the 139435 base patch-ID except the Sun Fire T1000 server.

Furthermore, for a given MINOR release family, a given system might have released several MICRO versions, usually to fix important bugs. When a new MICRO version is released, Oracle uses the same base patch-ID and just increments the patch version (for example, 01 is incremented to 02). For example, the Sun Fire T1000 server has released three MICRO versions of SysFW 6.5, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Sun Fire T1000 Server Micro Versions

Sun Fire T1000 SysFW 6.5 Micro Versions
SunSolve Patch-ID
SysFW 6.5.3
127577-01
SysFW 6.5.5
127577-02
SysFW 6.5.11
127577-03

Note that the micro versions are not consecutive (6.5.3, 6.5.5, 6.5.11) for the Sun Fire T1000 server. This is because the SysFW versioning is relative to the firmware itself, not the system, and Sun does not release every version of SysFW on every system. So, it is not unusual for consecutive micro releases for a given system to skip several MICRO version numbers. That said, consecutive MICRO versions for a given system do have consecutive SunSolve patch versions, as seen in Table 2.


11. Q: How Can I Determine Whether There Are Updates for My Sun Server?

A: This table summarizes the current releases of firmware for Sun SPARC systems.


You can also search the My Oracle Support Patches and Updates tab and in the Patch Search window use the Product or Family (Advanced) search for your Sun system's Product name and available Releases. There might be several different firmware patches available for a particular system. For example, the Sun Fire T2000 server has had multiple firmware minor releases (6.1.x, 6.2.x, 6.3.x, 6.4.x, 6.5.x, 6.6.x and 6.7.x). Each of these 6.x minor releases is given a unique patch-ID number and each 6.x.y micro release becomes a subsequent revision of the patch.

Here is an example of the available firmware patches for the Sun Fire T2000 system:

  • Patch 139434-01 System Firmware 6.7.0 (current patch revision of the 6.7.x minor release)
  • Patch 136927-03 System Firmware 6.6.7 (current patch revision of the 6.6.x minor release)
  • Patch 127576-03 System Firmware 6.5.11 (current patch revision of the 6.5.x minor release)
  • Patch 126399-02 System Firmware 6.4.6 (current patch revision of the 6.4.x minor release)
  • Patch 124750-08 System Firmware 6.3.12 (current patch revision of the 6.3.x minor release)
  • Patch 123482-03 System Firmware 6.2.6 (current patch revision of the 6.2.x minor release)
  • Patch 122430-06 System Firmware 6.1.13 (current patch revision of the 6.1.x minor release)


The Sun System Handbook and the Oracle Solaris OS Hardware Compatibility Lists (HCL) also provide some information on available firmware patch updates for your Sun Servers.


12. Q: Can I Downgrade My Sun Server Firmware?

A: You can always upgrade to new firmware, but downgrades are not guaranteed. Whether they work or not depends on whether your system's hardware configuration and the rest of the software stack (the Oracle Solaris OS, patches, and so on) have any dependencies on your newer firmware. If there are dependencies and you downgrade, you might find yourself unable to even boot. So in general, downgrades should be avoided unless you know for sure your compatibility matrix is verified. Also, it should be obvious that downgrading might cause you to lose features or functionality. For example, LDoms 1.0.1 requires System Firmware release 6.5.x. Downgrading to 6.4.6 would break LDoms functionality.


13. Q: Do I Need to Reboot My Sun Server After Upgrading the Firmware?

A: The instructions for flashing the new firmware onto your system are contained in the patch Install.info file. The system needs to be powered off to flash update the firmware.


14. Q: What has changed with Firmware patches starting in April 2013?


A: Prior practice, as noted in above FAQ's, was to release Sun System Firmware patches in a similar form to what was used for Oracle Solaris 10 content. Sun System Firmware patches were distinguished with Patch ID's of the form 123456-01. Starting with the release of Sun System Firmware 9.0 on T5 and M5 server systems, Oracle will release this firmware via standard 8 digit Oracle Patch identifiers used by MyOracle Support.

What has changed:
SPARC T5/M5 Firmware patches will now use native MyOracle Support (MOS) patch numbering. These numbers will be unique for each incremental release, unlike before where the base Patch ID (e.g., 123456) remained the same for a given series of MINOR release versions while the 2 digit patch revision number would be incremented for each new release.

The MOS release identifications are improved. The searchable Product is the hardware platform name, but now instead of always only seeing a single 1.0 Release which contained ALL of the released patches for that platform (which was hard to search and filter), now each type of Release will be searchable. For example, previously for the Product "SPARC T4-1", a search would return just a single Release "SPARC T4-1 1.0". Now the search for the Product "SPARC T5-2" will show all of the Release types, including Sun System Firmware, HW Programmables and LSI Firmware. You will be able to filter your searches on MINOR releases (e.g., 9.0, 9.1, etc.) as they are released.

The Platform name is now "Generic Platform", instead of the redundant and inaccurate "Oracle Solaris on SPARC (32-bit)" and "Oracle Solaris on SPARC (64-bit)".

The README file for the Sun System Firmware Release has been simplified and is now in HTML format.

The Top Level directory of the downloaded MOS Patch has changed slightly. It now includes a new Firmware subdirectory where the actual firmware binary objects and related metadata are located, along with associated installation instructions and tools for this hardware platform. The content is largely identical to the old firmware patch release content.

The format and content of the Sun System Firmware .pkg file is unchanged along with the sysfwdownload utility used to load it onto your platform.


15. Q: What are Hardware Programmables?

A: The SPARC T5 and M5 platforms have introduced a new capability to update the "hardware programmable devices" (such as FPGA's, SEEPROM's, etc.) that are accessible via the Service Processor. Previously, these updates were just done in manufacturing,  and Service would replace the affected board if needed in the field. However, enabling the updates in the field without swapping hardware can provide a clear benefit in terms of faster response time and shorter down-time.

To support this capability, Oracle has created a new class of firmware releases called "Hardware Programmables", and they will be visible on MyOracle Support under that name. Hardware Programmable releases will be associated with each supported SPARC platform via a separate downloadable patch from the usual Sun System Firmware updates.

It is important to remember that there are also other types of firmware, in addition to the "Sun System Firmware" and they will be released separately from these new HW Programmables releases.


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