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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

February 5, 2013

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.

About Don MacVittie
Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. 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 2013 East Opening Keynote by IBM
In this Cloud Expo Keynote, Danny Sabbah, CTO & General Manager, Next Generation Platform, will detail the critical architectural considerations and success factors organizations must internalize to successfully implement, optimize and innovate using next generation architectures.
Lisa Larson, Vice President of Enterprise Cloud Solutions of Rackspace Hosting Live From New York City
In the old world of IT, if you didn't have hardware capacity or the budget to buy more, your project was dead in the water. Budget constraints can leave some of the best, most creative and most ingenious innovations on the cutting room floor. It's a true dilemma for developers and innovators – why spend the time creating, when a project could be abandoned in a blink? That was the old world. In the new world of IT, developers rule. They have access to resources they can spin up instantly. A hybrid cloud ignites innovation and empowers developers to focus on what they need. A hybrid cloud blends the best of all worlds, public cloud, private cloud and dedicated servers to fit the needs of developers and offer the ideal environment for each app and workload without the constraints of a one-size-fits-all cloud.

Keynote: Driving Cloud Innovation: SSDs Change Cloud Storage Paradigm
Cloud is a transformational shift in computing that can have a powerful effect on enterprise IT when designed correctly and used to its full potential. Join Citrix in a discussion that centers on building, connecting and empowering users with cloud services and hear examples of how enterprises are solving real-world business challenges with an architecture and solution purpose-built for the cloud.

Go Beyond IaaS to Deliver "Anything As a Service"
Many organizations want to expand upon the IaaS foundation to deliver cloud services in all forms—software, mobility, infrastructure and IT. Understanding the strategy, planning process and tools for this transformation will help catalyze changes in the way the business operates and deliver real value. Join us to learn about the new ITaaS model and how to begin the transformation.


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The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...
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The past few years have brought a sea change in the way applications are architected, developed, and consumed—increasing both the complexity of testing and the business impact of software failures. How can software testing professionals keep pace with modern application delivery, given the trends that impact both architectures (cloud, microservices, and APIs) and processes (DevOps, agile, and continuous delivery)? This is where continuous testing comes in. D
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Top Stories for Cloud Expo 2012 East

In this Big Data Power Panel at the 10th International Cloud Expo, moderated by Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan, Govind Rangasamy, Director of Product Management at Eucalyptus Systems; Kevin Brown; CEO of Coraid, Inc.; Christos Tryfonas, CTO and Co-Founder of Cetas; and Max Riggsbee, CMO and VP of Products for WhipTail, discussed such topics as: Big Data has existed since the early days of computing; why, then, do you think there is such an industry buzz around it right now? How is Big Data impacting storage and networking architecture in data centers? How about the intersection of Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing - how big a sector is that and why? What's the difference between Big Data and Fast Data? ... (more)

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Everyone talks about a cloud-first or mobile-first strategy. It's the trend du jour, and for good reason as these innovative technologies have revolutionized an industry and made savvy companies a lot of money. But consider for a minute what's emerging with the Age of Context and the Internet of Things. Devices, interfaces, everyday objects are becoming endowed with computing smarts. This is creating an unprecedented focus on the Application Programming Interface (API) as developers seek to connect these devices and interfaces to create new supporting services and hybrids. I call this trend the move toward an API-first business model and strategy.
We live in a world that requires us to compete on our differential use of time and information, yet only a fraction of information workers today have access to the analytical capabilities they need to make better decisions. Now, with the advent of a new generation of embedded business intelligence (BI) platforms, cloud developers are disrupting the world of analytics. They are using these new BI platforms to inject more intelligence into the applications business people use every day. As a result, data-driven decision-making is finally on track to become the rule, not the exception.
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There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Get a jump on that rapidly evolving trend at Big Data Expo, which we are introducing in June at
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AHMAR ABBAS
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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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@CloudExpo Blogs
It’s conference season and, as you might expect, Jason and I have been on the road covering a bunch of them. It’s always great to see what the disruptive players in the market are doing — and this year did not disappoint. But there is one thing that repeatedly happens that just gets under my skin: transformation-washing. As Jason explained in a Forbes article over a year ago, ‘washing’ is when a vendor (or pundit) applies a buzzword loosely in an overt attempt to attach themselves to its buzz. And transformation-washing is rampant.
Networks have become large, complex entities that are increasingly difficult to manage and control. Security, audit, risk and compliance professionals know that their organizations rely on them for effective risk management, control and governance processes that are essential to the safety of their network environment. Yet compliance and security are more challenging than ever before as additional layers are added to this environment. One of the challenges lies in the fact that there is an ongoing, huge access gap in network security and compliance – and it has been residing within the enviro...
Some journey to cloud on a mission, others, a deadline. Change management is useful when migrating to public, private or hybrid cloud environments in either case. For most, stakeholder engagement peaks during the planning and post migration phases of a project. Legacy engagements are fairly direct: projects follow a linear progression of activities (the “waterfall” approach) – change managers and application coders work from the same functional and technical requirements. Enablement and development mirror one another, progressing from proof-of-concept planning to final product delivery. Exce...
While Artificial Intelligence (AI) may not be a new concept, its contribution to automation may just change the face of business. AI's conception dates as far back as 1950, when Alan Turing proposed the Turing test in order to evaluate a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior. Fast-forward a couple of decades and research led to the creation of well-known theoretical tools such as Fuzzy Logic, Bayesian Networks, Markov Models and Neural Networks. Concurrently, new types of programming languages such as Prolog, LISP and Smalltalk set the scene for most of the modern interpreted langu...
Fingerspitzengefühl: A German word used to describe the ability to maintain attention to detail in an ever-changing operational and tactical environment by maintaining real-time situational awareness. The term is synonymous with the English expression of "keeping one's finger on the pulse". The problem with fingerspitzengefühl traditionally, in addition to pronouncing it, has been it is hard for an individual to scale up. Today that is changing. In a world of sensors, AI and mobile devices, having real-time situational awareness is far easier than ever before. In fact, today the challenge i...
The “Internet of Things” is an exciting area of tech, one in which industry experts estimate there will be more than 30 billion connected IoT devices by 2020. IoT is the inter-networking and instrumentation of physical devices – everything from streets, cars, factories, power grids, ice caps, satellites, and clothing to phones, microwaves, milk containers, planets, human bodies, etc. IoT creates an opportunity to measure, collect and analyze an ever-increasing variety of behavioral statistics. That being said, data, and more importantly insight into the data, is key for enhanced business val...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
Gaining visibility in today’s sprawling cloud infrastructure is complex and laborious, involving drilling down into tools offered by various cloud services providers. Enterprise IT organizations need smarter and effective tools at their disposal in order to address this pertinent problem. Gaining a 360 - degree view of the cloud costs requires collection and analysis of the cost data across all cloud infrastructures used inside an enterprise.
Our work, both with clients and with tools, has lead us to wonder how it is that organizations are handling compliance issues in the cloud. The big cloud vendors offer compliance for their infrastructure, but the shared responsibility model requires that you take certain steps to meet compliance requirements. Which lead us to start poking around a little more. We wanted to get a picture of what was available, and how it was being used. There is a lot of fluidity in this space, as in all things cloud. The fact that DevOps Security plays into the cloud compliance model – particularly in dynamic ...
Making informed network investment decisions about emerging technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) can help evolve the network to keep pace with the innovations of the devices and people it’s connecting. As you work with business leaders to make decisions about upgrading your infrastructure with these networking developments, it’s important to understand the similarities, differences, and benefits of dual NFV and SDN implementation. With their ability to offer a new way to design, deploy, and manage the network and its services, NFV a...
Most of us understand that artificial intelligence (AI) offers opportunities for productivity improvements in the form of speed, automation, standardized actions and responses, plus the opportunity for continuous improvements via machine learning. These opportunities are enabled by data inputs that are analyzed and processed through AI algorithms that execute a desired decision and action. For all of the great capabilities and benefits that AI can provide, there is also a potential dark side. AI solutions can easily codify our prejudices, bias, gender stereotypes and promote injustices intenti...
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers. There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday priorities of the business world. However, with the passage of time, this scenario is much more democr...
In an attempt to put the patient first in healthcare, Congress and President Obama in 2015 approved a bipartisan bill for United States healthcare reform. The bill is known as “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015,” or MACRA. Among the major provisions of MACRA is the Quality Payment Program. Under the Quality Payment Program, physicians and nurses receive positive, neutral or negative Medicare payment adjustments based upon a “Patient Satisfaction Score,” that is, patient satisfaction scores have a direct impact on how physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and hospital’s g...
The notion of improving operational efficiency is conspicuously absent from the healthcare debate - neither Obamacare nor the newly proposed GOP plan discusses the impact that a step-function improvement in efficiency could have on access to healthcare (through more capacity), quality of healthcare services (through reduced wait times for patients) or cost (through better utilization of scarce, expensive assets).
The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Microservices being modular these are faster to change and enables an evolutionary architecture where systems can change, as the business needs change. Microservices can scale elastically and by being service oriented can enable APIs natively. Microservices also reduce implementation and release cycle time and enables continuous delivery. This paper provides a logical overview of the Microservices Reference Architecture that highlights various sub systems needed to support Microservic...
The high barrier to entry prevents many companies from tapping into the full potential of machine learning. But what if you could make it more accessible? We’re in the midst of a data explosion, with today’s enterprises amassing goldmines of information (25 quintillion bytes of data every day, according to some reports). But what exactly are they doing with this data? Considering the volume of data being collected is quickly becoming unmanageable, now is a good time to shift from manual machine learning to a cognitive approach. This enables businesses to better capitalize on their data and fa...
Blockchain offers impeccable security with its cryptography-based decentralized system as well as the plethora of possible uses retailers could exploit in the near future. In a world of increasing cyberattacks, internet fraud and online hacking, blockchain comes as a breath of fresh air. With its encrypted data and decentralized network system, it's a thorn in every hacker's side. Generally being associated with the finance sector, blockchain is now taking retail by storm. It's on a course that will change the retail industry as we know it. But how exactly is it going to achieve such a feat?
For DevOps teams, the concepts behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) are nothing new. A style of software design initially made popular in the 1990s, SOA was an alternative to a monolithic application; essentially a collection of coarse-grained components that communicated with each other. Communication would involve either simple data passing or two or more services coordinating some activity. SOA served as a valid approach to solving many architectural problems faced by businesses, as applications could be developed by more teams working in parallel and more productively by reusing orig...
Many IT organizations have come to learn that leveraging cloud infrastructure is not just unavoidable, it’s one of the most effective paths for IT organizations to become more responsive to business needs. Yet with the cloud comes new challenges, including minimizing downtime, decreasing the cost of operations, and preventing employee burnout to name a few. As companies migrate their processes and procedures to their new reality of a cloud-based infrastructure, an incident management solution can and should be adopted to help overcome these challenges. This is particularly true when larger ...
We’re seeing an emerging trend in the cloud computing world. I’ve been referring to it as cloud fatigue, but it’s more commonly known as repatriation, or moving workloads from the cloud back to on-prem locations. According to a recent 451 Research report, over 21 percent of organizations have plans to pull back from the cloud and return to an on-prem infrastructure in 2017. Considering the vast growth of cloud adoption over the last several years, what’s behind this trend?
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Past SYS-CON Events
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2011west.sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo East
cloudcexpo
2011east.sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2010west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualization
2010west.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2010.
sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo East
cloudcomputingexpo
2010east.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo East
virtualizationconference
2010east.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2009west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualizationconference
2009west.sys-con.com
    GovIT Expo
govitexpo.com
 
    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2009.sys-con.com
 

Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
NRO

Pereyra
Oracle

Ryan
OpSource

Butte
PwC

Leone
Oracle

Riley
AWS

Varia
AWS

Lye
Oracle

O'Connor
AppZero

Crandell
RightScale

Nucci
Dell Boomi

Hillier
CiRBA

Morrison
Layer 7 Tech

Robbins
NYT

Schwarz
Oracle

What The Enterprise IT World Says About Cloud Expo
 
"We had extremely positive feedback from both customers and prospects that attended the show and saw live demos of NaviSite's enterprise cloud based services."
  –William Toll
Sr. Director, Marketing & Strategic Alliances
Navisite
 


 
"More and better leads than ever expected! I have 4-6 follow ups personally."
  –Richard Wellner
Chief Scientist
Univa UD
 


 
"Good crowd, good questions. The event looked very successful."
  –Simon Crosby
CTO
Citrix Systems
 


 
"It's the largest cloud computing conference I've ever seen."
  –David Linthicum
CTO
Brick Group