Don’t Neglect Your HMC

Nathan Williams, iTech Solutions

Nathan Williams

The Hardware Management Console (HMC) is a strange beast. Anyone with a partitioned system needs one, and it can be an indispensable tool for anyone whose desk isn’t within 100 yards of the machine room…but it isn’t part of the system itself and it usually isn’t critical to everyday operations once things are up and running. Is it part of your critical path or is it an accessory largely to be forgotten? To answer that question, let’s examine how the HMC relates to your system and how IBM supports the HMC.

The HMC is a tool which allows us to manage the hardware contained inside a Power Systems server. By communicating with the POWER system’s Flexible Service Processor (FSP), it provides an interface to allocate processor, memory, storage, and I/O to each logical partition and manage those resources dynamically. Perhaps most importantly, the HMC lets us access each partition’s console session, which we need when operating in a restricted state. While some of these functions may be viewed as “one and done” tasks that only happen when the machine is first set up, it is important to remember that we never know what tomorrow might bring. Business needs to change and POWER-based hardware is flexible enough to turn corners, but it needs an HMC to do the steering. Your system runs your business, and the HMC runs your system. It should be clear from this relationship that the HMC can’t be ignored.

Whether you have a physical HMC in the rack just above your system or you have a virtual HMC running in a VM cluster somewhere, IBM treats them all as appliances when it comes to support. The HMC is a closed system, and isn’t treated as a traditional application stack when applying updates and enhancements. With no access to the underlying OS, we must rely on IBM to keep the system secure and running efficiently. IBM does this by releasing new HMC versions, as well as service packs and PTFs for the existing versions. Service packs and PTFs usually address security or functionality improvements both in the HMC software and the base operating system. Version upgrades often introduce new features and capabilities. For example, HMC v9.1 introduced the ability to manage POWER9 systems, while service pack 930 for v9.1 fixed a number of performance issues, bugs, and security vulnerabilities.

There are some things to note about IBM’s update roadmap for the HMC:

  1. Some PTFs are considered mandatory by IBM for the HMC to be in a supported configuration. It is important to know what HMC version you are running and what fixes are available for it so you don’t find yourself without support.
  2. HMC versions eventually go out of support, with IBM dropping further security updates. It’s generally a good idea to keep ahead of the curve.

Service packs and PTFs are installed using a GUI wizard to transfer the necessary update file and apply it, usually requiring a reboot along the way. Version upgrades are a more involved process and are complicated by the fact that you can’t upgrade more than two release levels at a time (i.e. v8.8.3 to v8.8.5 or v8.8.6 to v9.1). This level restriction makes it very time-consuming and tedious to bring a severely back-leveled HMC up to current support. Nevertheless, both fixes and version updates can be performed on the HMC while your POWER system is running with no ill effect. With that in mind, there really is no reason not to keep the HMC updated.

Many times I’ve gotten onto a client’s HMC to find that it is still running the same version of the software that came pre-installed. So often, these are the clients that have trouble with the HMC, generating error messages, calling home for no reason, or—even worse—not calling home at all because the software hasn’t been updated. Simply checking for fixes a few times a year and upgrading to a new release before the current one is put out to pasture can go a long way towards improving your experience—not to mention the fact that it keeps your systems secure. The HMC is on your network and therefore has access to your organization’s data. It provides important configuration and management services for the system that is probably the most important one in your business. It needs care and feeding like any other machine in the rack. Please don’t neglect it!

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