System Firmware Updates Utilizing Sofware Repositories

Traditionally, hardware vendors don't make it easy to update the firmware (motherboard BIOSes, RAID controller firmware, systems management firmware, etc.) that's flashed into their systems. Most provide DOS-based tools to accomplish this, requiring a reboot into a DOS environment. In addition, some vendors release OS-specific, proprietary tools, in proprietary formats, to accomplish this. Examples include Dell Update Packages for BIOS and firmware, HP Online System Firmware Update Component for Linux, and IBM ServRAID BIOS and Firmware updates for Linux. These tools only work on select operating systems, are large because they carry all necessary prerequisite components in each package, and cannot easily be integrated into existing Linux change management frameworks such as YUM repositories, Debian repositories, Red Hat Network service, or Novell/SuSE YaST Online Update repositories.

We propose a new architecture that utilizes native Linux packaging formats (.rpm, .deb) and native Linux change management frameworks (yum, apt, etc.) for delivering and installing system firmware. This architecture is OS distribution, hardware vendor, device, and change management system agnostic.

The architecture is easy as PIE: splitting Payload, Inventory, and Executable components into separate packages, using package format Requires/Provides language to handle dependencies at a package installation level, and using matching Requires/Provides language to handle runtime dependency resolution and installation ordering.

The framework then provides unifying applications such as inventory_firmware and apply_updates that handle runtime ordering of inventory, execution, and conflict resolution/notification for all of the plug-ins. These are the commands a system administrator runs. Once all of the separate payload, inventory, and execution packages are in package manager format, and are put into package manager repositories, then standard tools can retreive, install, and execute them:

# yum install $(inventory_firmware -b)
# apply_updates

We present a proof-of-concept source code implementing the base of this system; web site and repository containing Dell desktop, notebook, workstation, and server BIOS images; open source tools for flashing Dell BIOSes; and open source tools to build such a repository yourself.

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