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Bare Metal Blog: Quality Is Systemic, or It Is Not
In all critical systems the failure of even one piece can have catastrophic results for the user

BareMetalBlog talking about quality testing of hardware, in all its forms. F5 does a great job in this space.

For those of you new to the Bare Metal Blog series, find them all right here.

In all critical systems – from home heating units to military firearms – the failure of even one piece can have catastrophic results for the user. While it is unlikely that the failure of an ADC is going to be quite so catastrophic, it can certainly make IT staff’s day(s) terrible and cost the organization a fortune in lost revenue. That’s not to mention the problems that downtime’s impact on an organizations’ brand can have over the longer term. It is actually pretty scary to ponder the loss of any core system, but one that acts as a gateway and scaling factor for remote employee workload and/or customer access is even higher on the list of Things To Be Avoided ™.

In general, if you think about it the number of hardware failures out there is relatively minimal. There are a ton of pieces of network gear doing their thing every day, and yes, there is the occasional outage, but if you consider the number of devices NOT going down on a given day, the failure rate is very tiny.

Still, no one wants to be in that tiny percentage any more than they absolutely must. Hardware breaks, and will always do so, it is the nature of electronic and mechanical things. But we should ask more questions of our vendors to make certain they’re doing all that they can to keep the chances of their device breaking during their otherwise useful lifetime to a minimum.

For an example of doing it right, we’ll talk a bit about the lengths that F5 goes to in an attempt to make devices as reliable as possible from an  electro-mechanical perspective. While I am an F5 employee, I will note that there is no doubt that F5 gear is highly reliable. It was known for quality before I came to F5, and I have not heard anything since joining that would change that impression. So I use F5 because (a) I am aware of the steps we take as an organization and (b) because our hardware testing is an example of doing it right.

And of course, there are things I can’t tell you, and things that we just will not have room to delve into very deeply in this overview blog. I am considering extending the Bare Metal Blog series to include (among other things) more detail about those parts that I would want to know more about if I were a reader, but for this blog, we’re going to skim so there is space to cover everything without making the blog so long you don’t read to the end.

I admit it, I’ve talked to a lot of companies about testing over the years, and can’t recall a vendor that did a more thorough job – though I can think of a few whose record in the field says they probably have a similar program. So let’s look at some of the quality testing done on hardware.

Parts are not just parts.
An ADC, like any computerized system, is a complex beast. There is a lot going on and the quality of the weakest link is the piece that sets the life expectancy and out-of-the-box quality standards for the overall product. As such there are some detailed parts and subassembly tests that gear must go through.

For F5, these tests include:

  • Signal Integrity Tests to test for signal degradation between parts/subsystems.
  • BIOS Test Suites to validate that BIOS performs as expected and handles exception cases reliably.
  • Software Design Verification Testing to detect and eliminate software quality issues early in the development process.
  • Sub- Assembly Tests to verify correct subsystem performance and quality.
  • FPGA System Validation Tests determines that the FPGA design and hardware perform as expected.
  • Automated Optical Inspection used on the PCB production line to prevent and detect defects.
  • Automated X-Ray Inspection takes 3D slices of an assembled circuit board to prevent and detect defects.
  • In-Circuit Test using a series of probes to test the populated circuit board with power applied to detect defects.
  • Flying Probe uses a “golden board” (perfect sample) to compare against a newly produced board to verify there are no defects.

Now that’s a lot of testing, though I have to admit I’m still learning about the testing process, there may well be more. But you’ll note that some things aren’t immediately called out here – like items picked from suppliers, which could be caught in some of these tests but might not  either. That is because supplier quality standards are separate from actual testing, and require that suppliers whose parts make it into F5 gear are up to standard.

Supply demands
So what do we, as an organization, require from a quality perspective of those who wish to be our suppliers? Here’s a list. This list I KNOW isn’t complete, because I pared it down for the purposes of this blog. I think you’ll get the idea from what’s here though.

  • All assembly suppliers are ISO9000 and 140001 certified.
  • Suppliers assemble and test their products to F5 specifications.
  • Suppliers are monitored with closed loop performance metrics including delivery and quality.
  • Formal Supplier Corrective Action Response program – when a fault is determined in supplier quality, a formal system to quickly address the issue.
  • Quarterly reviews with senior management utilizing a formal supplier scorecard to evaluate supplier quality, stability, and more.

The biggest one in the list, IMO, is that suppliers assemble and test product to F5 specifications. Their part is going in our box, but our name is going on it. F5 has a vested interest in protecting that name, so setting the standards by which the suppliers put together and test the product they are supplying is huge. After all, many suppliers are building tiny little subsystems for inside an F5 device, so holding them to F5 standards makes the whole stronger.

By way of example, we require the more reliable but more expensive version of capacitors from our suppliers. For a bit of background on the problem, there is an excellent article on hardwaresecrets.com (and a pretty good overview on wikipedia.com) about capacitors. By demanding that our suppliers use better quality components, the overall life expectancy of our hardware is higher, meaning you get less calls in the middle of the night.

The whole is different than the sum of the parts
While an organization can test parts until the sun rises in the west, that will not guarantee the quality of the overall product. And in the end, it is the overall product that a vendor sells. As such, manufacturers generally (and F5 specifically) keep an entire suite of whole-product tests on-hand for product quality assessment. Here are some of them used at F5.

  • Mechanical Testing Test the construction of the system by  applying shock, drop, vibe, repetitive insertion/extractions, and more.
  • Highly Accelerated Life Testing -  Heat and vibration are used to determine the quality and operational limits of the device. The goal is to simulate years of use in a manageable timeframe.
  • Environmental Stress Screening – Expose the device to extremes of environment, from temperature to voltage.
  • MFG Test Suite System Stress testing - turn everything on, Reboot, Power Cycle, et cetera. By way of example, we cycle power up to 10,000 times during this testing.
  • On-Going Reliability Testing - The products currently in the manufacturing line are randomly picked and then put in a burn-in chamber which then test the device at elevated temperature.
  • Post Pack out Audit – Pull random samples from our finished good inventory to verify quality.

That’s a lot of testing, and it is not anywhere near all that F5 does to validate a box. For example, while software testing got a hat-tip at the component level, our Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS) has a completely separate set of testing, validation, and QA processes that are not listed here because this is the Bare Metal Blog. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll do a series like Bare Metal Blog on our software. That would be interesting for me, hopefully for you also.

It’s not over when it’s over
The entire time that Lori and I were application developers, there was a party to celebrate every time we finished a major piece of software. From an evening out with the team when our tax prep software shipped to a bottle of champagne on the roof of an AutoDesk office building when AutoCAD Map shipped, we always got to relax and enjoy it a bit.

While our hardware dev teams get something similar, our hardware test teams don’t pack up the gear and call it a product. For the entire lifecycle of an F5 box – from first prototype to End of Life – our test team does continuous testing to monitor and improve the quality of the product. Unlike most of what you will find in this blog, that is pretty unique to F5. Other companies do it, but unlike ISO certification or HALT testing, continuous testing is not accepted as a mandatory part of product engineering in the computing space. F5 does this because it makes the most sense. From variations in quality of chips to suppliers changing their suppliers, things change over the production of a product, and F5 feels it is important to overall quality to stay on top of that fact. This system also allows for continuous improvement of the product over its lifecycle.

One of the many reasons I think F5 is a great company. I have twice run into scenarios that involved a vendor who did not do this type of testing, and it cost me. Once was as a reviewer, which means it was worse for the vendor than for me, and once as an IT manager, which means it was worse for me than the vendor. I would suggest you start asking your vendors about lifetime testing, because a manufacturing or supplier change can impact the reliability of the gear. And if it does, either they catch it, or you could be walking into a nightmare. The perfect example (because so many of us had to deal with it) was a huge multinational selling systems with “DeskStar” disks that we all now lovingly call “Death Star” disks.

You can rely on it
This process is a proactive investment by F5 in your satisfaction. While you might think “doesn’t all that testing – particularly when continuous testing occurs over the breadth of devices you sell – cost a lot of money?”, the answer is “nowhere near as much as having to visit every device of model X and repair it, nowhere near as much as the loss of business persistent quality issues generates”. And it is true. We truly care about your satisfaction and the reliability of your network, but when it comes down to it, that caring is based upon enlightened self interest. The net result though is devices you can trust to just keep going.

I know, we have one in our basement from before we came to F5, It’s old and looks funny next to our shiny newer one. But it still works. It’s EOL’d, so it isn’t getting any better, and when it breaks it’s done, but the device is nearly a decade old, and still operates as originally advertised.

If only our laptops could do that.

Read the original blog entry...

About Don MacVittie
Don MacVittie is Founder of Ingrained Technology, LLC, specializing in Development, Devops, and Cloud Strategy. Previously, he was a Technical Marketing Manager at F5 Networks. As an industry veteran, MacVittie has extensive programming experience along with project management, IT management, and systems/network administration expertise.

Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was a Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing, where he conducted product research and evaluated storage and server systems, as well as development and outsourcing solutions. He has authored numerous articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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Cloud Expo - Cloud Looms Large on SYS-CON.TV


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With our launch at Cloud Expo, we successfully transformed the company from a relatively unknown European player into the dominant player in the market. Our competitors were taken by surprise and just blown away. We got a huge number of really high quality leads..."
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We were extremely pleased with Cloud Expo this year - I’d say it exceeded expectations all around. This is the same info we got from partners who attended as well. Nice job!"
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Lastest Blog Posts
I love receiving gifts in the form of new insights! It doesn't matter if others received the same gift years ago and I am just getting it now. If it is new to me, I get excited. It is like waking up in the morning and discovering a new room in your house. I read an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times this weekend titled, "And Now for a Bit of Good News." The subject of the article was the new "sharing economy," think Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc. In the article, Friedman calls Airbnb a "Trust Platform." To me, this weekend, this term was a gift. He is so right. I have used Airbnb many times when traveling with my family, and to date have been very pleased with our experiences. Often the transactions are sizeable as I am reserving a home in a desirable location for a week. I am engaging in a transaction of some size with a person I don't know, in a home I have never visited, most often in a foreign country using different currency, involving different laws and customs. Why did I risk it? I trusted the platform.
A key development for the Internet of Things will be the evolution and emergence of the ‘Cloud Name System’, a directory system for Cloud applications in the same way DNS (Domain Name System) works for the web and email. Lori MacVittie wrote a while back about the need for an ‘SNS’ – a Service Name System, a DNS type directory approach but for Cloud Services so that they can be entirely loosely coupled from their IT infrastructure. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, himself described a scenario of ‘Socially Aware Cloud Storage‘ that applies this same ideal of abstraction to our personal data across all the social networks we use. This refers to a distributed (Cloud) storage service that is used to store personal user data for social networks, rather than the social sites holding it themselves.
I like this word re-imagination from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation. We are seeing so many aspects of our life being transformed by the internet. Take for example, ordering a cab to go somewhere. Either we phone for a yellow cab here in California or if you are in New York city, then you stand and wave for an incoming yellow cab to stop. The new game-changer is Uber. All you do is touch your smartphone screen for UberX or Black car and you get an instant message about the car coming in less than 5 minutes time with the driver and car info. It is cheaper and you pay by card (pre-registered in your Uber account). This is re-imagining the transport sector. Uber, a San Francisco company is worth about $17B and is operating in 70 cities around the world. Quite a disruptive force!
When people talk about Big Data, the emphasis is usually on the Big. Certainly, Big Data applications are distributed largely because the size of the data on which computations are executed warrants more than a typical application can handle. But scaling the network that provides connectivity between Big Data nodes is not just about creating massive interconnects. In fact, the size of the network might be the least interesting aspect of scaling Big Data fabrics.
Do you avoid stores that have had a credit card breach? You are not alone. About 52% of people avoid merchants who have had a data breach according to a recent Lowcards survey. They surveyed over 400 random consumers to better understand the impact of identity theft on consumer behavior. 17% said they or a family member was a victim of identity theft over the last year with half the cases being credit card theft. 94% said they are more concerned or equally concerned about ID theft. They estimate that there were 13.5 million cases of credit card identity theft in the United States over the last 12 months.
If you've had to test one of today's composite applications, you know that "access" has become one of the most daunting barriers to SDLC acceleration. Whether we're talking about access to dev/test environments or access to dependent applications, the ability to pull all the required pieces together in order to test thoroughly is equivalent to herding feral cats. If you haven't experienced this fun firsthand, consider this: our recent research revealed that systems under test have an average of 30 dependencies, but team members have consistent access to only 6. The time available to access test environments is extremely limited (4 hour slots) and 30% of that limited time was consumed by configuration/setup tasks. Ultimately, testers had time to execute only 50% of the available test plan. Service virtualization is a revolutionary new technology that helps you break through these constraints by providing ubiquitous, global access to complete dev/test environments. Organizations leveraging service virtualization are able to conduct testing earlier, faster, more thoroughly, and more accurately—significantly reducing the risk of application failure. In case you're just starti...
Much has been published about the Open Compute Project. Initiated by Facebook, it has become an industry effort focused on standardization of many parts and components in the datacenter. Initially focused on racks, power and server design, it has also added storage and now networking to its fold. Its goal is fairly straightforward: “how can we design the most efficient compute infrastructure possible”, a direct quote from its web site. The focus of OCP has been mostly around hardware designs and specifications. If you look at the networking arm of OCP, you find several Top of Rack (ToR) ethernet switch hardware designs donated by the likes of Broadcom, Mellanox and Intel. By creating open specifications of hardware designs for fairly standard ethernet switches, the industry can standardize on these designs and economics of scale would drive down the cost to create and maintain this hardware. A noble goal and there are many opinions on both sides of this effort. Mostly referred to as “bare metal” and “commodity”, you can easily spend days reading up on many opinions. Mike Bushong yesterday discussed pricing implications for resellers in this blog post.
In a post Snowden world it is clear that for cloud data security, we need strong encryption. When properly implemented, encryption in the cloud reduces risk to levels acceptable for sensitive data. There is no doubt data protection in the cloud computing era is never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ kind of a solution. It requires a 360-degree view of the company with 365-days a year dedication. The best place to start is with a risk analysis so you know what kind of data you have, its levels of sensitivity, who’s using it, where it’s used and stored, and how and where and over what technologies it’s going to ‘commute’. You need to understand your company’s data – in terms of technology and human weaknesses. Data should be unreadable to an attacker. It must be incoherent at all times to anyone other than you and your trusted personnel: while it’s travelling – or you are; whether it’s in transit, storage, stopping, or resting, data is safest in encrypted form.
Some people are never satisfied. These fearless agents of change are everywhere. They're informed, confident and willing to experiment. They seek out the best business technology solution for the job at hand. They act on instinct. Yes, you could say that they're driven. However, they're also at risk of being labeled as "rogue employees" because they ordered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering and perhaps expensed it without prior approval. Sometimes they're the champion of progressive projects that are referred to as Shadow IT -- intentionally bypassing their company's formal evaluation and procurement process. How can this happen? Is it just because their activities are tolerated, or are they being encouraged? If so, by whom? Why would any business leader applaud a team member that breaks the rules? Maybe, the simple answer is that staying within the confines of the status-quo won't enable a top-performer to fully apply their talent, achieving their absolute best.
The GovCloud Media Network features agency specific video playlist for registered members. Please enjoy this feature on the Army IT. Please visit the new GovCloud Network Media Library for more video content. For membership information please send request to info@govcloudnetwork.com.
One of the primary principles of object-oriented programming (OOP) is encapsulation. Encapsulation is the way in which the state of an object is protected from manipulation in a way that is not consistent with the way the variable is intended to be manipulated. The variable (state) is made private, that is to say only the object itself can change it directly. Think of it as the difference between an automatic transmission and a standard (stick). With the latter, I can change gears whenever I see fit. The problem is that when I see fit may not be appropriate to the way in which the gears should be shifted. Which is how engines end up being redlined.
Cloud computing has finally come into its own. While we’ve been hearing for 8 years or more that cloud computing would one day take over the enterprise, the fact of the matter is that it’s been slow going. While the spread of cloud computing solutions hasn’t been as rapid as many early proponents predicted it would be, we are now to a place where cloud solutions are seen as viable for most organizations, and are being utilized regularly.
It's an application world; a world that is rapidly expanding. With new opportunities and markets arising driven by mobility and the Internet of Things, it is only going to keep expanding as applications are deployed to provision, license, and manage the growing sensors and devices in the hands of consumers. Applications are not isolated containers of functionality. No application winds up in production without a robust stack of resources and services to support it. Storage and compute, of course, are required, but so are the networking - both stateless and stateful - services that provide for scale, security and performance.
We're launching the "Tap In Open Forum": a new series of blog posts where we detail a current topic being discussed in the software development and testing community and invite you to participate in an open discussion with our best and brightest here at Skytap. Feel free to share your thoughts and we'll do the same! InformationWeek and IBM Mobile Technical Sales Leader Dustin Amrhein presented a webinar last week as part of their “DevOps Rado” series. The Frictionless Enterprise: Built for Business, looked at DevOps as a viable solution for removing the friction that prevents enterprises from innovating at not just the speed they would like, but at the speed absolutely required to stay relevant, and hopefully ahead of their competition.
Since the birth of Hadoop in 2005-06, the way we think about storing and processing information has evolved considerably. The term “Big Data” has become synonymous with this evolution. But still, many of our customers continue to ask, “What is Big Data?”, “What are its use cases?”, and “What is its business value?”. The Internet is overloaded with definitions, characteristics, and benefits; however, few discussions synthesize all three of these topics in one place. This paper answers these questions, and proposes a total cost calculation framework for CTOs and CIOs that are evaluating solutions for their organization’s use case(s). In the text below, I examine an on-premise Hadoop ecosystem as a general purpose Big Data solution in relation to alternative commercial purpose-built storage technologies (-e.g. Oracle, Teradata, IBM, SAP, Microsoft, EMC, etc). It may be difficult to determine the exact point at which you should leverage one over the other. It is my contention that when the total cost of using all your data exceeds what you are able to spend using purpose-built technologies, it is time to consider using a general purpose solution like Hadoop for process offloading....
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