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Worried about the next Azure Stack firmware update? Learn how Cisco UCS makes the complex simple with every update.

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Worried about the next Azure Stack firmware update? Learn how Cisco UCS makes the complex simple with every update.

 

In order to get the latest features, defect fixes and to protect from security threats it is the responsibility of the Microsoft Azure Stack customers to keep software and firmware components of their Azure Stack system updated regularly. Following is the list of all the generic Azure Stack components which require periodic updates:

  1. Azure Stack software
  2. Drivers for the Azure Stack server components
    1. Host Bus Adapter (HBA),
    2. Network Interface Card (NIC),
    3. Hard Disk Drive (HDD),
    4. Solid State Disk (SSD), etc.
  3. Firmware for the Top-of-Rack switches
  4. Firmware for BMC switch
  5. Firmware for the Azure Stack server components
  6. Drivers for the Azure Stack Hardware Life Cycle Host (HLH) server
  7. Firmware for the Azure Stack HLH server components
  8. OS updates for the Azure Stack HLH server
  9. OS and software updates for the VMs running on HLH server

Design of Cisco Integrated System for Microsoft Azure Stack is different from the generic Azure Stack system in the following aspects:

  1. It does not contain any Hardware Lifecycle Host (HLH)
  2. It does not contain any BMC switch
  3. It contains three new UCS specific components. UCS Manager, UCS Fabric Interconnects and UCS Fabric Extenders.

 

azs1.png

 

Following are the advantages of the Cisco architecture:

  • Server lifecycle management software (UCS Manager) is highly available as it runs on a pair of Fabric Interconnects instead of a single HLH.
  • Unlike the BMC switch, UCS Fabric Extenders which carry BMC network traffic provide high availability to the BMC network and are fully managed by UCS Fabric Interconnects so no manual configuration is required for them.
  • Unlike a generic Azure Stack in which servers connect to the Top of Rack (ToR) switch, in Cisco Azure Stack servers connect to the UCS fabric Interconnects. UCS Fabric Interconnect ports are auto configurable and are policy driven. This is a big value add for Cisco customers as this greatly simplifies Azure Stack capacity expansion. More details are available in my Azure Stack node addition blog (https://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/azure-stack-add-node-simplified-by-cisco-ucs).
  • Since we do not have any HLH or BMC switch in our architecture we don’t need any software or firmware upgrade related to them. We hope this will save our customers a lot management overhead and time. An HLH that is not well maintained and kept up to date poses a security risk to the overall Azure Stack infrastructure.

 

Firmware upgrade for Cisco integrated system for Microsoft Azure Stack

Firmware upgrade of major components for Cisco Azure Stack system are managed by Cisco UCS manager. UCS Manager provides GUI and API based firmware and software upgrade functionality out-of-the-box and has been available on UCS-Managed servers for over 9 years and is a core component of the system from inception and release into the market.

The following operations are involved in the firmware upgrade of Cisco Azure Stack:

  • Firmware upgrade of Cisco Nexus 9000 series Top-of-Rack switches
  • Firmware and software upgrade of UCS infrastructure components
  • Firmware upgrade of UCS server components
  • Driver upgrade for UCS server components

Since we have two top of the rack switches their firmware upgrade one switch at a time is nondisruptive.

Firmware and software upgrades required for the UCS Infrastructure components (UCS Manager, Fabric Interconnects, Fabric Extenders) is fully automated and nondisruptive. UCSM manager provides simple workflow driven UCS infrastructure firmware upgrade functionality out of the box.

azs2.png

 

UCS Server component (Network Adapter, BIOS, CIMC, SSD, HDD etc.) firmware upgrade is also fully automated, but server firmware upgrade requires the server to reboot. Server reboot can be disruptive to Azure Stack if it is not initiated by Azure Stack resource manager.

In order to preform Azure Stack driven server reboot, we utilize Azure Stack update resource provider. Azure Stack update resource provider performs non-disruptive serial reboot of each Azure Stack server when a new OEM extension package is applied to it. With every version of Cisco Azure Stack firmware upgrade we will release a newer version of OEM extension package.  UCS Manager updates the server component firmware during the server reboot that is initiated by Azure Stack resource manager.

 

Cisco Azure Stack Platform Upgrade software

To further improve the firmware upgrade experience, we have developed Cisco Azure Stack Platform Upgrade (CASPU) software which automates all the operations involved in the firmware upgrade of Cisco Azure Stack.

This software is simple to use to allow the Cisco customer to perform Azure Stack firmware upgrade on their own without any service engagement. Underneath CASPU calls Cisco UCS and Nexus built-in proven firmware automation to perform firmware upgrades of different Azure Stack components. The Cisco Azure Stack firmware download portal provides the customer an ability to subscribe for upgrade notification.  Thus, when Cisco posts a firmware upgrade, the customer is sent an e-mail to notify them of the new firmware’s availability.  Customers sign up for this notification at the time of their initial install or some time thereafter.

Cisco Azure Stack firmware upgrade using CASPU software is fully supported by Cisco TAC.

For more detailed instructions on use of CASPU software please refer to the Cisco Azure Stack firmware upgrade procedure available at: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/docs/unified_computing/ucs/azure-stack/b_Azure_Stack_Operations_Guide_4-0/b_Azure_Stack_Operations_Guide_4-0_chapter_01000.html .

For more information regarding Cisco’s solution for Microsoft Azure Stack visit- https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/data-center/integrated-system-microsoft-azure-stack/index.html

 

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