Delan Azabani

Setting up an IBM xSeries 346

I recently acquired an IBM eServer from a friend, type 8840. I've repurposed it to be a dedicated Debian box at the moment, but there were some issues. At infrequent intervals, maybe once a day, the server would reboot for no reason, and no OS or firmware logs showed a trace. Perhaps it's something raising a non-maskable interrupt. In an effort to fix that I've updated all of the firmware I could find.

Updating the main BIOS to version 1.17 was straightforward with the KPE144A CD image. Similarly easy was version 1.20 of the baseboard management controller firmware, with the KPBT37A CD image. Both are essentially floppy disk images with PC-DOS, standard fare for firmware updates.

I then discovered that in addition to the BMC, the server comes with what IBM calls a "Remote Supervisor Adapter", or RSA II. Essentially this small blue board with a PowerPC CPU and its own Ethernet port is out-of-band management on steroids.

In addition to using DHCP and providing its own HTTP and SSH servers even without a running OS on the host, it allows you to monitor sensors, check logs, reboot, and even interact with the local console. There's essentially no need to ever physically touch the server other than to replace faulty parts.

Updating the RSA II was a little trickier. The provided update, KPEP30A simply contains the firmware image files themselves, which you need to upload via the board's web interface. Without the username and password set by a distant old owner though, that was not possible. The Linux release of the update, which is a hacky shell script blob, didn't even work when I tried it on Debian 7 amd64, probably because it's so old.

The main challenge to tackle then, was resetting the credentials to the RSA II. After a brief bit of searching, I found a solution suitable for someone like myself, who hasn't got the RSA II daemon for Linux configured and running. The process can be summarised as:

  1. Download Fedora-14-i686-Live-Desktop.iso — old enough to run the tools.
  2. Download ibm_svc_rsa2_hlp253a_linux_32-64.tgz — the RSA Linux daemon.
  3. Download ibm_utl_asu-3.60-asut69k.i386.rpm — the IBM settings utility.
  4. Boot the live Fedora image.
  5. Install ibmusbasm-1.53-2.rhel5.i686.rpm from the daemon archive.
  6. Install ibm_utl_asu-3.60-asut69k.i386.rpm and libusb-devel.
  7. As root, run ibmspdown && ibmspup.
  8. Watch syslog until ibmasm notifies that it has loaded.
  9. As root, run /opt/ibm/toolscenter/asu/asu resetrsa.

The credentials were reset, and I was ready to go. After looking up the RSA II in my DHCP server's lease table, I logged in to the web interface, but the page consistently stalled while loading. An obstacle, but at least I was now able to access the controller. Considering that the Fedora live image was still running, I thought to try the Linux release of KPEP30A, and sure enough, it updated the board to version 1.09. Better still, the page loading issues were also cured after the update.

With three firmware updates and all configurations reset to their defaults, hopefully things run a bit more smoothly now. Until then, it's time to enjoy the local console without even leaving the comfort of my desk for the server room.