SMBs

Problematic firmware upgrades in NETGEAR switches

To get the latest OS on his NETGEAR switches, Mark Pimperton wrestled two-stage upgrades, multiple "latest versions," and failed file transfers.

Recently I was asked to upgrade all our managed NETGEAR switches to the latest firmware to assist with network monitoring and troubleshooting. We weren't trying to solve a specific problem; we just wanted to make sure we had all the latest features and bug fixes.

Our switches are from NETGEAR's ProSafe range designed for SMBs. The portfolio consists of:

  • 2 x FS726T
  • 6 x GS724T
  • 1 x GS748T

We also have several non-managed switches. Actually, for us, "managed" is a slight misnomer as we do very little management. The only settings I change in a new switch are the system name and IP address. The main difference with the managed devices is that we can log in and look at the collision or failure statistics if we think we have a bottleneck. (In theory we can also view real-time bandwidth use via Spiceworks, our network auditing software, although I've never needed to do that yet.)

Download

To upgrade the firmware you need the latest file from NETGEAR and a NETGEAR utility installed on your PC. To find the right firmware file I went to http://downloadcenter.netgear.com/ and entered the product name in the search box (Figure A). Figure A

Selecting downloads from the NETGEAR website. (Click the image to enlarge.)
The search results include Smartwizard Utility and Smart Control Center (SCC). These are, respectively, the original and current NETGEAR switch management utilities. When you buy a NETGEAR switch, it includes a CD with the current utility, so we already had both of these programs.

Next there are multiple versions of the firmware. Our fleet of GS724Tv3 had different versions installed, ranging from 4.1.0.9 to 5.0.3.5. Judging from the results I thought I probably wanted the very latest -- version 5.4.1.10. I was bit puzzled by the big jump in version numbers from 5.0.5.4 to 5.4.1.10, so I also checked out version 5.0.5.4.

Clicking the search result opens a new window asking you to accept responsibility for the consequences of installing the firmware. After doing so, the next window appears to demand registration (Figure B); however, if you look carefully, the link at the bottom right allows you to continue without registration. Figure B

You can bypass this registration screen. (Click the image to enlarge.)
The downloaded zip file consists of an .stk file (the firmware) and release notes (Figure C). On reviewing the release notes for version 5.4.1.10, I discovered that all the changes related to the use of IPv6, which we don't use, so I stuck to 5.0.5.4. Figure C

Contents of the firmware download file. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Install

Upgrading for the GS724Tv3 switches was done from the SCC utility as follows:

  1. Start SCC and wait for it discover your switches around the network.
  2. Click the Maintenance tab and then click Firmware.
  3. Select the switch you want to upgrade and then click the Download Firmware button. This opens a file browser from where you select the downloaded .stk file.
  4. At the bottom of the screen I left the default settings of downloading to Primary Storage and running the new firmware immediately after download (Figure D) and clicked Apply.
  5. Switching to the Tasks tab should show a file transfer in progress. This is the point at which you hope and pray that the transfer succeeds, because in my case it frequently didn't. One GS724T took five attempts. Another had eight failed attempts, causing me to give up for the day. When I returned to it I was on the verge of connecting a laptop directly to the switch (rather than transferring round the network from my desktop PC), but tried again and succeeded -- after another five goes. (NETGEAR, why is this so flaky?)
  6. After a successful file transfer, the switch automatically reboots. Wait a few minutes before refreshing the display in SCC, and you should see your switches displaying the latest firmware version.
Figure D

Preparing to transfer new firmware. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Older switches

After upgrading the GS724Tv3 and GS748Tv4 switches, I was left with an old GS724Tv1 and two FS726Ts; these three weren't detected by SCC, but showed up in the older SmartWizard Discovery utility, of which I had version 2.05.05. When researching how to upgrade the GS72Tv1, I found (bizarrely) that I had to start with an older version of SmartWizard Discovery (version 2.05.03). None of our CDs had that version, nor could I find it anywhere on the NETGEAR site. That switch is still waiting for its upgrade.

The FS726T switches were a little tricky and had to be done in two stages. To upgrade from the 1.2.4_27_E firmware, I had to first upgrade the "boot code" via SmartWizard Discovery using the file FS726T_BootCode_SCC.hex downloaded from NETGEAR. This worked OK and made the FS726T disappear from SmartWizard Discovery but show up in SCC with a firmware version of "E." It also showed that DHCP was disabled and that the FS726T now had a factory default IP address of 192.168.0.139, meaning I could no longer communicate with it over our LAN, which uses a different subnet.

I hoped that rebooting the switch might cause it to pick up the correct DHCP address but that didn't work. I found other people confused by this on the NETGEAR support forum. My fix was:

  1. Install SCC on a laptop and set the laptop to be in the 192.168.0.x subnet.
  2. Disconnect the switch from the LAN, connect the laptop to it, and use SCC to complete the firmware upgrade using the file for firmware version 2.0.1_9. Until this was done, I couldn't browse to the switch user interface.
  3. The upgrade re-enables DHCP so I just disconnected the laptop, connected the switch to the LAN, and rebooted. The FS726T then picked up its allocated DHCP address.

Summary

The latest NETGEAR utility makes firmware upgrades easy, but file transfers can be unreliable. Older switches may have to be upgraded in two stages, and for some of them, you may need to hunt down a specific version of the NETGEAR SmartWizard Discovery software.

About

Mark Pimperton BSc PhD has worked for a small UK electronics manufacturer for over 20 years in areas as diverse as engineering, technical sales, publications, and marketing. He's been involved in IT since 1999, when he project-managed implementation ...

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