Installing and Updating System Firmware

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In our previous article, we provided a basic understanding of firmware concepts and terminology. We also introduced the important concept of concurrent firmware maintenance (CFM): what it is and what it isn't, and how it brings value in reducing (but not eliminating) the downtime associated with maintaining firmware. This article will fulfill our promise to provide a better understanding of how to install firmware fixpacks and firmware releases and how to determine if the fixpack installation will be disruptive or concurrent. We will also discuss firmware fix strategies.

Two Methods for Installing Firmware

There are two methods for installing system firmware on iSeries systems. The first is through the use of i5/OS PTFs. You can use this method to install both new releases and fixpacks. However, installing system firmware through this method is always distributive (i.e., will require a system IPL). The other method for installing firmware releases and fixpacks, and the one this article will focus on, is through the interfaces provided by the Hardware Management Console (HMC).

So how do you know if your HMC is controlling firmware Licensed Internal Code (LIC) updates? You can determine this in two ways. The first is to start the HMC Change Internal Code Wizard. The i5/OS has firmware (LIC) update control if you receive this message: "The requested action is not allowed. One or more targets are configured for LIC updates through the operating system." The other way is to issue the lslic command from the HMC Command Line Interface. The HMC controls firmware updates if the command returns "management status" as "enabled."

How Do I Know What's Installed and Whether I Can Do a Concurrent Update of My Firmware?

You can use the HMC to find out what level of system firmware code is currently installed on your system. On the left side of the HMC main menu (Figure 1), you'll see the servers the HMC is managing. Expand the Licensed Internal Code Maintenance option and click on Licensed Internal Code Updates. As you can see, the Licensed Internal Code Updates menu supports the installation of release upgrades via Upgrade Licensed Internal Code to a new release and fixpack updates via Change Licensed Internal Code for the current release.

Figure 1: Perform Licensed Internal Code installation via the HMC. (Click images to enlarge.)

When you choose to install a fixpack, you'll be asked to select a "target object." For the majority of you, a target object is basically the system that will be the object of the firmware installation. What is displayed is a list of the systems managed by that HMC. Just select the system or systems (yes, you can update multiple systems at the same time) and click on OK. You may get a message asking you to wait while system information is being retrieved.

You will be given three options (Figure 2):

  • To install the firmware update via the wizard
  • To view system information
  • To use advanced firmware installation features

Figure 2: Let the Licensed Internal Code Updates Wizard step you through the process.

The option to view system information allows you to see what has been installed and activated on the managed system (i.e., your target object). It also allows you to view what is available in the LIC (Service) repository (think of this as where the fixes to be installed are located) and to determine what can be activated concurrently based on the existing activated level. You will be asked for the location of the LIC repository (Figure 2). The LIC repository is accessible either via communication lines (e.g., IBM Retain or IBM Service Web site) or via the hard disk or DVD drive of the HMC. If you want to view what is already installed on the system to be updated, you can select none.

By the way, the HMC includes a Guided Setup Wizard to help you configure the initial network connectivity and modem setting to enable access to the IBM Web site and RETAIN. LIC (Service) repositories can support multiple fixpack levels. The IBM Service Web site will also allow you to download AIX IO drivers.

As we look at the system firmware information (Figures 3a and 3b), it is probably a good time to review some firmware concepts. The installed level is the highest level of code on the system. This code may or may not have been activated (i.e., loaded into memory). The activated level is the code level that the system is currently running; it's usually on the t-side flash. The accepted code is the lowest level of code on the system; it's usually on the p-side flash. If you specified a repository for firmware fixes, you'll also see information regarding concurrent and disruptive fixpacks. The Retrievable Disruptive Activate Level designates the highest code level in the service repository. This code if installed would result in a disruptive firmware update (i.e., you'll need to shut down all partitions and either turn the system off or put it in standby mode). Likewise, the Retrievable Concurrent Activate Level is the highest code level available in the repository location that can be retrieved, installed, and activated without a disruption.

Figure 3a: Check your installed, activated, and accepted code levels.

Figure 3b: Check the status of your Licensed Internal Code.

The Microcode downloads Web page is an excellent resource for information about firmware fixes (such as current firmware level, fixpack cover letters, etc). While you are there, sign up for firmware fix notifications (under the Related Information tab). Also, be sure to check out the Hardware Management Console support page for the latest information on HMC fixes and releases.

Firmware Installation via the HMC--Advanced Option

To start the system firmware installation, Select the Licensed Internal Code Updates option under the Licensed Internal Code Maintenance tree (Figure 1). Select the target of the firmware update (i.e., your system) and click on OK. This time, when you get to the Change Licensed Internal Code menu, choose the Select Advanced Features option. This option allows you to perform the individual parts of the installation processes (such as install and activate a fixpack and accept a fixpack). It also allows you to remove a fixpack and activate the previous level (this means copy the p-side flash over to the t-side flash and reload memory with this level) and to download fixpacks from the IBM repository onto a DVD or the hard drive of the HMC (Figure 4). The option for system information is identical to that of the View System Information option previously discussed.
Figure 4: Take advantage of the HMC's advanced features.

If you want to install fixes, select Install and Activate (implied Retrieve). In addition to being asked where your fixpack is located, you'll be given the options to install the latest concurrent fixpack, the latest fixpack (even if disruptive), or a specific level of fixpack. You'll also be given the option to move the t-side code over to the p-side, prior to the installation. If you select to specify LIC levels, you'll be shown the Specify LIC Levels screen (Figure 5). From this screen, you can select either to view the levels available for installation or to change the level that you want to install. You can also display the fixpack cover letter by selecting to open the LIC Level Details.

Figure 5: Specify LIC levels.

When you click OK from the Specify LIC Levels screen, you'll be told what type of install (concurrent or disruptive) this update will be. In addition, you'll be given the option to perform a concurrent install (with deferred disruptive activate) or a disruptive install and activate. IBM recommends that if the type of update is disruptive, then the install selection should be disruptive "install and activate." Lastly, you'll be given a confirmation menu (Figure 6) that provides information about the type of install (disruptive or concurrent) and information about the systems to be updated and the firmware levels to be installed.

Figure 6: Confirm the action.

OK, that was fun (not). Is there an easier way? Yes! Read on!

Installing Firmware Fixpacks via the HMC Wizard

The Start Change Licensed Internal Code Wizard option is the simplest way to install firmware fixpacks. It installs the latest level and automatically accepts the previously activated level or moves the previous level of fixes from the t-side to the p-side flash (in iSeries terminology, moves firmware fixes from B-side to A-side). Let's use the easiest method, the wizard, to install a firmware fixpack. The first thing you will be prompted for is the location of the fixpack (Figure 3). You will go through two prompts; click Next to both of these prompts. The first prompt just tells you that you are attempting to perform a firmware update and that if no fixpacks are in the firmware repository, nothing will happen and no further prompts will be shown. The second prompt lets you know whether the firmware update will be concurrent, disruptive, or deferred. It also gives you the option of changing the installation method to the advanced procedure. By the way, the wizard will also tell you whether you are at the latest level of fixpack (i.e., no firmware update required) and whether a new release level of firmware is available (in case you would prefer to cancel the fixpack update and instead perform a release upgrade, but remember that release upgrades are disruptive). Lastly, you'll be shown a confirmation menu (Figure 6). Note that on the confirmation screen, both managed system and power subsystem updates are available. The power subsystem updates (if required for your system) will be installed first. Then system firmware updates will be installed. A failure in the power subsystem update will stop the update process, and the managed system firmware update will not occur.

Upgrading to a New Release Level

The discussion so far has been about updating the firmware within a certain release. At some point, you will need to update to a new release level, either because the new release has new function you want or because the release you are on will soon reach the end of the one-year fix support window. The good news is that you've already learned almost everything you need to know in the instructions above.

Starting from the panel called Licensed Internal Code Installation via the HMC, select Update Licensed Internal Code to a New Release. The next steps will be nearly the same as the Change Licensed Internal Code path. Target selection and repository selection are just as described above. The first thing that is different when upgrading to a new release level is that you must accept the license for the new firmware (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Accept the license for the new firmware.

After accepting the license, a panel will show which firmware components will be updated and which firmware levels will be installed (Figure 8). When you press OK on this panel, the installation will begin, and a progress panel will be shown.

Figure 8: Confirm the action.

There are a few things you should know. As described above, an upgrade to a new release is always disruptive, so there will be no option to do this concurrently; therefore, it's important to do the upgrade at a maintenance window when you can perform a deep IPL. Another thing is that a release upgrade automatically performs the "accept" step as well, so at the end of the upgrade, both the temporary and permanent flash sides will be at the new release. If your system has Bulk Power Control (BPC) firmware (on an i595 system) both the BPC and the system firmware will be updated to the new release; it is not an option to have the components at different release levels. And one last thing: It is always recommended that you first update your HMC to the new release level before updating any system firmware components to the new release.

Firmware Maintenance Information Strategy

IBM has roughly two firmware releases per year. Each firmware release is supported for at least one year, and fixpacks are created as necessary for the supported firmware releases. The average size of a fixpack is around 13 MB, so broadband access (RETAIN or IBM Web site) is the most efficient option. Dial-up access will require a connect to RETAIN, so if you have no communication lines to the HMC, you can either download the ISO image to a PC and create a CD or order a CD from IBM Service. IBM recommends that your system firmware be 01SF23_126 or higher and that your HMC firmware be at a minimum of V4R5.0 HMC code with efix MH00318.

Firmware Maintenance Strategy

The above discussion addresses the tools provided for firmware maintenance, but how do you apply these tools most effectively to keep system firmware up-to-date with the least downtime? These tools and processes require some additional decisions, since there will be more than one release available to choose from.

The first suggestion is that if a system is HMC-managed, use the HMC for firmware updates. Using the HMC allows you to take advantage of being able to do concurrent firmware updates when they are available.

The second suggestion is to stay on the same release level (e.g., 2.3.0) until there is a good reason to switch. Then, plan the switch well in advance. For most people, there will be four reasons to switch to another release level:

  • The release level you are on is approaching its end-of-service date (i.e., has been available for about a year and hence will go out of service support soon).
  • You have multiple systems in your environment, and you wish to have all at the same firmware level.
  • A new release has new function that is needed in your environment.
  • You have a scheduled maintenance action that will cause a platform reboot. This would be a good time to examine whether you should also update to a new firmware release. This way, if fixes are needed in the future, you will be on a release where the fixes are provided, and you can apply them concurrently.

When updating the system firmware to a new release, you should also update your HMC to the corresponding HMC firmware release. The HMC update should be installed prior to installing the system firmware.

The third suggestion is to install all firmware fixes that can be applied concurrently. You should consider checking the IBM repository on a regular basis (perhaps monthly) for new fixes and then apply newer fixes that can be applied concurrently.

What if the most current fixpack would result in a disruptive install (non-concurrent)? In this case, it makes sense to examine the content of the fixpack to see what was fixed and whether it impacts your system. IBM releases disruptive fixpacks only when it is necessary to fix important problems; therefore, if one of these fixes in the fixpack affects your system, it may make sense to schedule a maintenance window to get the fix installed. Every fixpack has a corresponding README file (also known as the "XML" file) that describes the fixpack contents. Disruptive fixes are listed first, and these disruptive changes should be examined closely to see whether your system requires any of them.

If it is necessary to install a disruptive fixpack, consider whether a fixpack is available at a newer release that contains the fixes you need. Since the update process will be disruptive, it may make sense to also get on a newer release.

Lastly, for best performance during the firmware installation, you should first download the latest firmware levels to the Service Repository located on your HMC. Then, you should install the firmware from the HMC hard drive.

Got It?

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of the strategies you might employ to install firmware. If you'd like additional information, IBM has provided an education module called "Performing Licensed Internal Code Maintenance" on IBM Resource Link at,Performing,licensed. (Note: This sight requires user ID and password.)

Stephen Linam is a Senior Technical Staff Member in IBM Global Firmware Development. He was an architect of the P5 Concurrent Firmware Maintenance Support; before that, he worked in architecture and development for P5 and pSeries P4 firmware and the AIX operating system. Before joining IBM in 1984, he developed applications in RPG. Stephen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Becky Schmieding is an IBM Certified Executive Project Manager at IBM Rochester on the Product Definition Team (PDT) responsible for the E2E upgrade process. She is a noted speaker and author on PC5250, iSeries Navigator, and the iSeries Access family of products. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Becky Schmieding is an IBM Certified Executive Project Manager at IBM Rochester on the Product Definition Team (PDT) responsible for the E2E upgrade process. She is a noted speaker and author on PC5250, iSeries Navigator, and the iSeries Access family of products.


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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.


  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption



  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access




  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.


  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.



  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.