For several years now, certain hyperconverged solutions vendors, such as Nutanix, enable us to update firmware, drivers, and software from a single location or from a single click. That helps customers to keep their infrastructures up-to-date without having to watch compatibility lists between hardware and software. Thanks to this kind of feature, the compatibility matrix is observed because firmware and drivers are delivered directly by the company that sells the product.

When Azure Stack HCI was released, this feature was not available, and you had to watch the compatibility matrix. Thanks to Windows Admin Center, some companies created some extensions to handle that. Today, companies such as Dell, HPE, or Lenovo provide their extension versions to manage hardware and software from a single pane of glass.

This month I have deployed an Azure Stack HCI cluster based on Dell hardware. I wanted to share with you the good, the bad and the ugly of their extension.

Windows Admin Center and Dell EMC OpenManage extension

N.B: Even if this extension is called Dell EMC OpenManage, you don’t need Dell OpenManage management tool to run this extension.

I installed Windows Admin Center 2009 on a three-node Azure Stack HCI cluster based on Windows Server 2019. The underlying hardware are based on brand new AX-740XD nodes. This information is important for the “ugly” part of this topic.

So, I opened my favorite web browser and navigated to Windows Admin Center. Then, I installed the Dell EMC OpenManage Integration extension.

Windows Admin Center

Then, I opened the Azure Stack HCI panel. In the left menu, a new sub-menu appears called extensions. When Dell EMC OpenManage integration is selected, a customer notice appears asking you to accept agreement.

Dell EMC OpenManage integration

Use Dell EMC Openmanage Integration for Windows Admin Center

To update firmware and drivers, you have two options:

  • Download Azure Stack HCI catalog from the Internet
  • Take the catalog from Dell Repository Manager

The second option requires that you make your own catalog based on Dell compatibility matrix. You have to deploy Dell Repository Manager and create your own repository based on latest supported firmware and drivers.

If you want to use this option, you have to navigate to settings and specify a SMB share for Dell EMC System Update (DSU) and Dell Inventory Collector (IC).

Dell EMC System Update (DSU)

If you use option 1, DSU and IC are downloaded from the Internet and you don’t need to fill the above field. I chose this option because it was the more convenient one. So, in the update panel, I choose Online – Dell EMC Azure Stack HCI catalog as source update.

Online – Dell EMC Azure Stack HCI

After that, the extension makes an inventory of firmware and drivers of all of cluster nodes. Then, you get a compliance report telling you which drivers and firmware you have to update to be compliant. Leave default selection and click on Next.

Complience Details

For each node, the extension gives you input about the components that will be updated. Then, click on Next to start the updates with Cluster Aware Updating.

Cluster Aware Updating

CredSSP must be enable for this extension. Is not really pretty but you don’t have the choice.

Update the Compliance

Once the process is started, the cluster are updating configuration is changed to update firmware and drivers. And the trouble begins …

Update Statistics

The extension freezes and status doesn’t change even if Cluster Aware Updating is running. In Windows Admin Center, the status is stuck on Downloading and will never change. However, Cluster Aware Updating is working and the update process is working.

Cluster Aware Updating is running

When all nodes have rebooted, the extension is still frozen. So, the Cluster Aware Updating configure remains. It’s a big issue because Cluster Aware Updating is completely broken, and you can’t use it anymore unless you reconfigure it manually.

The below screenshot presents why Cluster Aware Updating is broken. Some scripts were added and doesn’t exists.

Cluster Aware Updating

If you try to run Cluster Aware Updating through Windows Admin Center, you will get this error.

Cluster Aware Updating Test Summary

I contacted Dell about this issue. They told me I have to use Windows Admin Center 1910 to use this extension properly… Except that this version is really old, and I want to use the latest Windows Admin Center. Does it mean that Dell isn’t investing enough in that extension to follow new Windows Admin Center releases?

Moreover, it seems that the catalog is not up-to-date with the AX-740XD nodes. Even if I update each node with the latest version, my nodes are still marked as uncompliant because of a SATA driver. Windows Server and Dell provide the same drivers. However, the Windows Server driver version is 10.x.x.x, and the Dell Driver version is 1.2.xxx. The wizard asks me to downgrade but it is not possible because it’s the exact same driver.

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A Word About Azure Stack HCI OS

In a few months, Microsoft will release Azure Stack HCI OS — a dedicated OS for this solution. The firmware and drivers update process will be integrated into the cluster creation steps and directly into the Updates menu. This means that with a single click, you will be able to update software and hardware; without any issues, hopefully.

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Romain Serre
Romain Serre
Senior consultant at Exakis
Romain Serre works in Lyon as a Senior Consultant. He is focused on Microsoft Technology, especially on Hyper-V, System Center, Storage, networking and Cloud OS technology as Microsoft Azure or Azure Stack. He is a MVP and he is certified Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE Server Infrastructure & Private Cloud), on Hyper-V and on Microsoft Azure (Implementing a Microsoft Azure Solution).