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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 currently a Senior Solutions Architect at StackIQ, Inc. He is also working with Mesamundi on D20PRO, and is a member of the Stacki Open Source project. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing, 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 - Cloud Looms Large on SYS-CON.TV

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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@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
In the 21st century, security on the Internet has become one of the most important issues. We hear more and more about cyber-attacks on the websites of large corporations, banks and even small businesses. When online we’re concerned not only for our own safety but also our privacy. We have to know that hackers usually start their preparation by investigating the private information of admins – the habits, interests, visited websites and so on. On the other hand, our own security is in danger bec...
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The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
Enterprises have been using both Big Data and virtualization for years. Until recently, however, most enterprises have not combined the two. Big Data's demands for higher levels of performance, the ability to control quality-of-service (QoS), and the ability to adhere to SLAs have kept it on bare metal, apart from the modern data center cloud. With recent technology innovations, we've seen the advantages of bare metal erode to such a degree that the enhanced flexibility and reduced costs that cl...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, will discuss the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They will also review two "free infrastruct...
Intelligent machines are here. Robots, self-driving cars, drones, bots and many IoT devices are becoming smarter with Machine Learning. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Sudha Jamthe, CEO of IoTDisruptions.com, will discuss the next wave of business disruption at the junction of IoT and AI, impacting many industries and set to change our lives, work and world as we know it.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
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As companies adopt the cloud-to-streamline workflow, deployment hasn’t been very seamless because of IT concerns surrounding security risks. The cloud offers many benefits, but protecting and securing information can be tricky across multiple cloud providers and remains IT’s overall responsibility. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Simon Bain, CEO of SearchYourCloud, will address security compliance issues associated with cloud applications and how document-level encryption is critical for sup...
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In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
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We are always online. We access our data, our finances, work, and various services on the Internet. But we live in a congested world of information in which the roads were built two decades ago. The quest for better, faster Internet routing has been around for a decade, but nobody solved this problem. We’ve seen band aid approaches like CDNs that attack a niche's slice of static content part of the Internet, but that’s it. It does not address the dynamic services-based Internet of today. It doe...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Although it has gained significant traction in the consumer space, IoT is still in the early stages of adoption in enterprises environments. However, many companies are working on initiatives like Industry 4.0 that includes IoT as one of the key disruptive technologies expected to reshape businesses of tomorrow. The key challenges will be availability, robustness and reliability of networks that connect devices in a business environment. Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is expected to...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the...
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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It's a simple fact that the better sales reps understand their prospects' intentions, preferences and pain points during calls, the more business they'll close. Each day, as your prospects interact with websites and social media platforms, their behavioral data profile is expanding. It's now possible to gain unprecedented insight into prospects' content preferences, product needs and budget. We hear a lot about how valuable Big Data is to sales and marketing teams. But data itself is only valuable when it's part of a bigger story, made visible in the right context.
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Introducing Big Data Expo
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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@CloudExpo Blogs
HTI Labs in London provides the means and governance with its Schematiq tool to bring critical data services to the interface users want. The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer digital transformation case study explores how powerful and diverse financial information is newly and uniquely delivered to the ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet edge.
Cloud services are supposedly known for being highly available but various types of outages prevent users from accessing those services, sometimes on very large scale. What are the implications of DDOS attacks on Cloud services and what are the alternatives? Last Friday, DDOS attacks disrupted major parts of the internet in both North America and Europe. The attacks seems largely targeted on DNS provider Dyn disrupting access to major service providers such as Level 3, Zendesk, Okta, Github, Paypal, and more, according to sources like Gizmodo. This kind of botnet-driven DDOS attack is a harbi...
Phishing has been around since the dawn of the internet. The term was first used in an AOL Usenet group back in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2003 when many baited hooks and lures started dropping. Popular transaction destinations like PayPal and eBay were some of the early victims of these spoofed sites asking customers to update their personal and credit card information. By 2004, it was a full-fledged ‘get rich quick scheme’ with many financial institutions – and their customers – as targets.
Organizations have key business processes that they are constantly trying to re-engineer. These key business processes – loan approvals, college applications, mortgage underwriting, product and component testing, credit applications, medical reviews, employee hiring, environmental testing, requests for proposals, contract bidding, etc. – go through multiple steps, usually involving multiple people with different skill sets, with a business outcome at the end (accept/reject, bid/no bid, pass/fail, retest, reapply, etc.). And while these processes typically include “analytics” that report on ho...
There are some enterprise applications that were born to be in the cloud. Customer relationship management (CRM) applications were an early favorite because salespeople (the primary consumers of CRM) are decentralized and mobile. Web applications and personal data storage are also ideal cloud applications because they allow enterprises to scale up easily while driving down costs. Enterprises have held on to their communications, however, making it one of the last applications to move into the cloud.
The evolution of JavaScript and HTML 5 to support a genuine component based framework (Web Components) with the necessary tools to deliver something close to a native experience including genuine realtime networking (UDP using WebRTC). HTML5 is evolving to offer built in templating support, the ability to watch objects (which will speed up Angular) and Web Components (which offer Angular Directives). The native level support will offer a massive performance boost to frameworks having to fake all these features like Polymer and Angular. It will also encourage people who are not familiar with th...
Ten short years ago, Apache Hadoop was just a small project deployed on a few machines at Yahoo and within a few years, it had truly become the backbone of Yahoo’s data infrastructure. Additionally, the current Apache Hadoop market is forecasted to surpass $16 billion by 2020. This might lead you to believe that Apache Hadoop is currently the backbone of data infrastructures for all enterprises; however, widespread enterprise adoption has been shockingly low.
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the M2M space. This really allows some room for influential individuals to create more high value inter...
As we enter the final week before the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in Santa Clara, CA, it's time for me to reflect on six big topics that will be important during the show. Hybrid Cloud This general-purpose term seems to provide a comfort zone for many enterprise IT managers. It sounds reassuring to be able to work with one of the major public-cloud providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure while still maintaining an on-site presence.
I was recently on a business trip out to Wausau, WI. The purpose was to conduct a training session on web application development for a new batch of associates at our onshore development center. When I picked up my rental car at the airport, I was very happy to discover it had built in Bluetooth integration for my phone. I have this feature on both cars at home. I love the convenience of having the car become an accessory for my mobile device. I immediately bound my phone with the car’s Bluetooth. Then something unusual happened. My phone prompted me with a question: ‘Chevy/Malibu would like a...
Cloud based infrastructure deployment is becoming more and more appealing to customers, from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs due to its pay-as-you-go model. Enterprise storage vendors are able to reach out to these customers by integrating in cloud based deployments; this needs adaptability and interoperability of the products confirming to cloud standards such as OpenStack, CloudStack, or Azure. As compared to off the shelf commodity storage, enterprise storages by its reliability, high-availability, efficient and greener solutions can offer much reduced operational expenses (OPEX) to the cloud...
This is a no-hype, pragmatic post about why I think you should consider architecting your next project the way SOA and/or microservices suggest. No matter if it’s a greenfield approach or if you’re in dire need of refactoring. Please note: considering still keeps open the option of not taking that approach. After reading this, you will have a better idea about whether building multiple small components instead of a single, large component makes sense for your project. This post assumes that you have experience with software architecture and services (you’ll find some words about my experience...
This is a short blog with a harsh message for Big Data vendors. Camera fades in to Pastor Schmarzo heading to the pulpit… What does the future hold for today’s big data vendors? Hundreds of startups are rushing into the big data market to stake their claim to a market that IDC predicts will reach $187 billion by 2019. Dang, that’s a big market, especially considering that the Global Business Intelligence market will only reach a trifling $20.8 billion by 2018 or the long-running ERP applications market is expected to reach a trivial $84.1 billion by 2020. Yes, the big data market opportu...
In case you haven’t heard, the new hotness in app architectures is serverless. Mainly restricted to cloud environments (Amazon Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Microsoft Azure Functions) the general concept is that you don’t have to worry about anything but the small snippets of code (functions) you write to do something when something happens. That’s an event-driven model, by the way, that should be very familiar to anyone who has taken advantage of a programmable proxy to do app or API routing and rewriting or executed inspection of requests or responses for malicious content.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to change everything by enabling “smart” environments (homes, cities, hospitals, schools, stores, etc.) and smart products (cars, trucks, airplanes, trains, wind turbines, lawnmowers, etc.). I recently wrote about the importance of moving beyond “connected” to “smart” in a blog titled “Internet of Things: Connected Does Not Equal Smart”. The article discusses the importance of moving beyond just collecting the data, to transitioning to leveraging this new wealth of IoT data to improve the decisions that these smart environments and products need to make: t...
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Past SYS-CON Events
    Cloud Expo West

    Cloud Expo East

    Cloud Expo West

    Virtualization Expo West
    Cloud Expo Europe

    Cloud Expo East

    Virtualization Expo East
    Cloud Expo West

    Virtualization Expo West
    GovIT Expo
    Cloud Expo Europe

Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty












Dell Boomi


Layer 7 Tech



What The Enterprise IT World Says About Cloud Expo
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