There are three categories of software releases available - Factory, Beta and Alpha.
These categories reflect the amount of testing done. The development team are constantly looking to improve the FireBrick, add new features, and correct any errors. Initially they work on lab test code which is not released at all, and when they need to test the software on a wider audience an alpha release is issued. It may not be very well tested.
When the code has been tested a stable release of code is issued as a beta release. This is a release candidate which we expect to be stable. In some cases the development are satisfied that the code is stable and promote the beta release to a factory right away. Usually the beta release is run on a number of customer systems before it is promoted to a factory release. The release is the same, it is no re-issued, but it is changed from beta to factory status.
We recommend upgrading all FireBricks to the latest factory release when convenient. FB2500 and FB2700 models will, by default, automatically upgrade to the latest factory release.
In the event of a problem with a release it may be withdrawn. It can then not be downloaded, and FireBricks will not automatically upgrade to a withdrawn release.
Normally you can only load a beta or factory release. If you need or want to run an alpha release then contact support who can enable this for you. You have to understand that alpha releases may not be as stable.
As long as your FireBrick is connected to the Internet it can automatically upgrade software. The FB2500 and FB2700 do this by default. This is controlled by a sw-update attribute in the system settings allowing you to set none, beta or factory releases to be loaded automatically (or alpha if enabled on your FireBrick).
You can also control when an automated software upgrade can happen using the sw-update-profile setting. A common request is to make a time based profile for the early hours of the morning and use this for software upgrades.
In most cases a software upgrade causes only a few seconds of down time, even when used as a PPP endpoint. It is often not noticed by users on your network. If you have concerns then set a profile or disable automated updated. However, we do recommend you leave updates enabled for factory releases. Unfortunately an update does mean losing the CQM graphs. There are ways to archive the graphs and you could set an upgrade to only be shortly after midnight to minimise the loss of graph data.
If you are running a LNS with incoming L2TP connections, an upgrade causes theses to be closed. They can reconnect to the LNS after the upgrade is complete, or to a backup LNS if you have one. If you have many thousands of connections this can take a few minutes.
If you go to the Status page, and are connected to the Internet then you will see "Upgrade available". Click on this to see the release note, and start an upgrade.
Upgrades go through intermediate checkpoint releases, so you may find that after an upgrade, another release is available that is later.
You can download the software from the downloads page and then upload in to a FireBrick which is not connected to the Internet. If you do this please take care to only upgrade to the next checkpoint release, and then from there to the next, and so on - do not skip a checkpoint release as it could result in your configuration not working as expected.
If for any reason, such as running faulty alpha code, the software in your FireBrick crashes repeatedly then it will revert to older software automatically. Several older copies are held in the flash memory automatically for this purpose. Having crashed your FireBrick will not automatically upgrade to a version of software that already exists in the flash (i.e. the one that crashed), but will automatically upgrade to a later release when it becomes available (if automated upgrades are enabled).