In todays’ age, you would think that when you have to update BIOS on your servers, you will be downloading an exe file and simply run it from your machine, ofcourse assuming you are running Windows on the machine. I was in for an unpleasant surprise of finding out that SuperMicro’s MicroCloud systems can only be updated using one of the two methods:
- Download BIOS zip file, which contains DOS executable and BIOS update bin file (which isn’t named .bin either!)
- Use IPMI and apply BIOS update OOB (out-of-band), which requires purchase of separate activation key per server blade in given chassis!
Let’s talk option 2 for a moment. The option sounds very interesting indeed. You can simply go to http://ipmi_ip of your server and update BIOS. Even if I have to reboot the server to apply changes, the update itself is promised to be out of band. That is certainly very convenient. However, SuperMicro seems to consider this feature a luxury! To be able to update BIOS using this option, you will have to purchase a product key and activate it, per server. Irony of this is calling SuperMicro and resellers who actually sold me this system resulted in clueless sales people caught blind with no idea of what I was asking them the quote for. Infact, one of the sales person even gave me technical support phone number as they thought this was a technical issue!
So now, let’s talk about option 1. To make their customers purchase keys I mentioned for option 2, SuperMicro seems to have gone to great lengths to make your BIOS update process very very difficult. Here’s why:
- Product manuals for MicroCloud servers suggest that you should not update your BIOS unless your system is not working properly and update is suggested by support representative.
- Scouring SuperMicro site suggests that they used to have option to run executable from windows (like you do with Dell and other vendors), however, they call it “legacy” feature. This was also confirmed by support representative when I called SuperMicro and asked for exe format instead of DOS option they have on website.
- When I worked with support representative from SuperMicro, they asked me to create a bootable USB using Rufus (http://rufus.akeo.ie/). When I asked them I want to use ISO because I am not local to my datacenter and need to use ISO over IPMI, they asked me to talk to sales for options. Yup, classic upsale tectic.
Really SuperMicro? Why can’t you price your systems right instead of trying to charge for a feature that should be built-in for such systems to start with. Why not put a disclaimer with your manageability claims on product page so customers know what they are in for!
Anyway, enough with my rant. Let’s talk tech…
Now that my options were clear, I knew I had no choice but to create a bootable ISO that contained BIOS update. I can’t use bootable USB mentioned earlier as I am not local to the datacenter and do not intend to plug-in USB disk to each server to apply BIOS update. I must use IPMI as I am remote and that leaves me with only one option, bootable DOS ISO image. I didn’t mention bootable DOS floppy image as 8MB BIOS update will not fit on floppy image.
At first, I tried figure this out on my own. I spent almost 3 days, trying all different tools that allow me to create bootable CD. However, almost all failed to produce desired bootable ISO image. Some claimed to have created the CD image but it failed to boot when I tried. At the end of my wits and wanting to not lose any more time, I reached out to SuperMicro support. After making suggestion of making bootable USB and when asked for ISO, recommending sales option, on my persistent request for ISO, I received an email stating “As a special courtesy” I will be provided with DOS bootable ISO image containing BIOS update! Yup, I am SPECIAL like that!
The problem is, the “special” favor didn’t go long. I received the download soon, only to find out that the image boots fine but won’t apply the update. As I started investigating, I found out that the update files on CD image were all 0 KB files! This I assume may have been a genuine glitch, but it still left me hanging. I reported the issue back to SuperMicro support. Since they made me feel “special” by not sharing how to create an image even after repeated requests, I was handicapped which I don’t like, especially with extensive IT background. So I decided to take matters in my hand.
First, I decided to simply mount the ISO provided by support to see what it contained. What I saw was a directory structure that was eerily familiar:
Notice diskemu and DOS71! If you are not familiar with Bart Lagerweij’s work on bood disks, quick search on internet would make you quickly familiar with his great work. He can be considered SME in this area.
Based on the info I now had on hand, I started looking for DOS 7.1 ISO images and a quick search returned this syschat community link. I now had a full DOS 7.1 install ISO. The next step was for me to figure out how to add BIOS update files to it and change default menu to my test. First, I needed to extract the image, which was easy with 7zip, which is free download and is one of my essential tools. You can extract ISO many different ways so that’s the easy part. Since we plan to create an ISO that is bootable, it is important to extract boot image as well. 7zip does it automatically. The location isn’t important but I extracted it to “C:\Temp\DOS71CD”, which we will reference later in the post.
I then extracted BIOS files I had downloaded from SuperMicro. Copied it in BIOS folder I created under extracted folder above. The folder structure at this point looks like the following:
The [BOOT] folder contains bootable image file Bootable_NoEmulation.img.
Depending on tool you use to extract the ISO file, you may not see the [BOOT] folder. I used 7zip for windows, which is a free tool and was able see and extract [BOOT] folder. YMMV.
The last piece before we can create custom CD ISO is to update files. First, let’s update BIOS folder. The folder contains the following files:
the .smc file is actually an executable. When you look at ami.bat, it renames the .smc file to .exe first, then runs it with provides BIN file as a parameter (X9SRD4.212 is actually the update bin file in my case) and finally renames executable back to smc. To simplify it a bit, I went ahead and renamed the .smc file to .exe. Then, I removed lines that rename smc file to exe and back. Finally since I was always going to apply this one update to my servers, I also chose to replace argument in bat file with actual bin file. Updated bat file looks very simple:
AFUDOSU X9SRD4.212 /P /B /N /K /R /FDT /MER /OPR
At this point, we have all the files in a file structure for ISO. All we need to do is put it together in a nice bootable ISO file. While there are many options and many ways to do this, I am going to show you just one that worked for me. If you want to follow along, go ahead and install MagicISO on your computer. Then follow these steps:
On the new image file screen, right click CD and rename it to your linking:
From tools menu, select “Load Boot Image”
Click “From bootable image file” and select Bootable_NoEmulation.img file from [BOOT] folder
Drag and drop all files and folders except [BOOT] folder from DOS71CD folder
From File menu, click “save as” and provide location and filename for new ISO.
That’s it! Go ahead and boot your SuperMicro systems with this ISO to apply the BIOS update.
Since we used MSDOS 7.10 installation disk, it will start DOS install if you don’t make any selection at boot screen. You want to cancel the installation which will put you at command prompt on A drive. You now can switch to C:\BIOS and start ami.bat. This will kick off bios update. If you feel adventerous, you can update diskemu.cmd to customize boot menu title and then update autoexec.bat located inside DOS7INS.IMG under BOOT folder. This way you will be able to boot from CD and automatically start BIOS update, no user interaction required! I trust your skills and ability to figure this out on your own. Hint 1: I’m tired by writing this long post, Hint 2: you can use MagicISO to edit IMG files as well.
I just finished BIOS updates remotely using IPMI on my servers. What a good way to end Friday the 13th!
Thanks a lot for sharing this great information! Just updated the BIOS of a Supermicro motherboard remotely using IPMI and a DOS71 ISO.
Prior I’ve tried using FreeDOS, but it simply failed to boot (the system just hang in a very early stage). Interesting was also that cdrtfe failed to create the ISO with a weird error complaining about sectors and the given Bootable_NoEmulation.img. MagicISO worked just fine.
[…] The two options for flashing a Supermicro motherboard have been written about at length (see Bhargav’s IT Playground – update BIOS on Supermicro Servers with DOS bootable), so I’ll only share some questions and answers that I got from talking with Supermicro […]
Had a similarly frustrating experience. Went down the same road trying to flash a trio of X7DCU servers. The instructions advised that the files would automatically update a ‘bootable floppy’ to auto-update the BIOS.
Not even close.
While the proper files were in the downloaded zip, the .bat file had a non-existent ‘chkflash’ command in it, unrecognized by the DOS disk I was using (MS-DOS, I believe). However, within the .bat file was the command necessary to initiate the flash, “phlash16 /mfg /mode=3 /s /x /c /BBL %1 %2 %3” so I simply removed the %2&3, replaced %1 with the BIOS files name (X7DCU4.825 in my case), and it ran smoothly through, and the BIOS is reporting the new version.
Such a chore for what should be an incredibly simple thing (especially with a built-in service processor!!).
Thank you. I completely agree with you, it’s a bad joke that supermicro make updating the BIOS so difficult. It will effect their sales in the long run because system admins like us would rather just buy servers that you can flash the BIOS directly from a file on a USB stick.
Um, no. sysadmins want servers that allow us to flash the BIOS remotely. I should not have to create a USB stick to flash a server’s BIOS.
Thank you. Just built a server and have been told by support that I have to update Bios because of the HDD’s I’m using. Therefore no OS. Wasted a day till I found this so I reckon you’ve saved me two.
I’ve discovered an interesting bit that may be of interest. SuperMicro uses BIOS from AMI. AMI provides firmware update utilities for DOS, Windows, Linux and UEFI shell. SuperMicro only provides the DOS version, but I bet the Windows and Linux versions work fine if you can get them.
And you can:
We’re running VMware on our blades and are already running current BIOS so I can’t really test. But if anyone does, let us know if the utilities for Windows or Linux work.
Note there are three different firmware update utilities and which one you use depends on your motherboard. But at least for the SuperMicro equipment referenced in this blog post, and that we use at our site, it’s the utilities in the Aptio folder that you want.
follow up on a previous comment – I found that you can actually use the EFI Shell version of AMI Flash Update (AfuEfix64.efi). This seems to be the easiest procedure – no messing with DOS, ISO, etc, etc.
1) place AfuEfix64.efi and your bios file (x10sled4.424 in my case) on a non-C: partition or USB drive. Intel EFI docs mention this has to be FAT16/32, but NTFS worked for me. The iKVM takes exclusive control of this partition when you mount it.
2) From the Java iKVM viewer, open Virtual Media, set your Logical Drive Type to the drive letter (E:\ for example), then press the “Plug in” button to attach it remotely.
3) reboot the server, choose EFI shell
4) it will usually show the device mappings before it says it will run startup.nsh (if it exists). If it doesn’t show the mappings, run the command ‘map -r’
5) type command ‘fs0:’ to change directory to your mounted drive; ‘ls’ and you should see the AFU and BIOS file.
6) Make sure you use the exact parameters from the ami.bat that comes in the same zip file as your BIOS file. Except replace AFUDOSU with AfuEfix64.efi and replace %1 with your BIOS file. My example was AfuEfix64.efi x10sled4.424 /P /B /N /K /R /L2 /ME
7) It will verify the image, then it seems to hang. WAIT. This is the scary part. It will start to do stuff after a minute or two.
8) It should say success, successful, etc. (many ‘!!’). If so, choose Power Control -> Set Power Off from the iKVM menu.
9) Disconnect (‘Plug out’) your partition/drive, then Power the host back on. It will seem to reboot a few times, press Del to go into BIOS and verify that it’s on the new version (2.0 04/24/2014 in my example).
10) Go to Save & Exit Menu, choose “Restore Optimized Defaults” (don’t press F3 cause that makes iKVM go to Full Screen mode). Save Changes and Reset.
DISCLAIMER: YMMV. Don’t blame me if the above procedure borks your system. I tried this on a new system with no OS or important data. I noticed there are 2 versions of AfuEfi – I downloaded the newer 5.05.04. Also, it might not work on your particular motherboard or BIOS. It’s also more unsafe to use iKVM (or any network method) to update BIOS compared to local USB. I would hope that the AfUEfi would simply abort if some checksum doesn’t match, but who knows?
It might be possible to automate using startup.nsh, I’ll look into that next as I have 23 more nodes to go…
update on versions of AfuEfi : Even though the first time I tried was on 5.05.4, I tested again with the latest, 5.07.00, and it complained that I should be using AFU 4. (in the change log, looks like this error message was added). So, I tried instead 3.07.00 (the version for Aptio 3, 4, and 4.5) and it worked without error. So, even though 5.05 worked, I’d recommend 3.07 (or latest 3.x) for these particular boards (X10SLE-DF in 5038ML-H24TRF).
side note: startup.nsh failing with “cannot read from file” error. will keep digging.
The startup.nsh problems were (seemingly) due to it being on an NTFS volume. When I created a new FAT32 partition and shared that instead, it worked fine. Contents of startup.nsh:
@ echo About to Update the BIOS...
AfuEfix64.efi x10sled4.424 /P /B /N /K /R /L2 /ME
side note: using ipmitool to force going into BIOS on next reboot saves a lot of time waiting for the right screen to press DEL at. Here’s the command:
ipmitool -I lanplus -U ADMIN -P -H 10.0.0.111 chassis bootparam set bootflag force_bios
(replace with your IP and username, if it’s not the default ADMIN. -P prompts for password, but -E instead can get password from an Environment Variable IPMITOOL_PASSWORD)
You’ve saved my day.
I’ve succeded to flash BIOS through UEFI. My iKVM doesn’t let me to mount local drive, so i’ve mounted UEFI partition on that server with Windows Server 2012 using the command mountvol z: /s.
Then i’ve copied AfuEfix64.efi (v5) and BIOS firmware file to z:\ and it become accessible from the UEFI shell on drive fs0.
I was really surprised how cumbersome it was to obtain and install firmware updates on Supermicro X10 servers. Supermicro is very much behind the likes of Lenovo and Dell in this regard. No free KVM-over-IP can compensate for that.