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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 - 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.


CloudEXPO Stories
With more than 30 Kubernetes solutions in the marketplace, it's tempting to think Kubernetes and the vendor ecosystem has solved the problem of operationalizing containers at scale or of automatically managing the elasticity of the underlying infrastructure that these solutions need to be truly scalable. Far from it. There are at least six major pain points that companies experience when they try to deploy and run Kubernetes in their complex environments. In this presentation, the speaker will detail these pain points and explain how cloud can address them.
The deluge of IoT sensor data collected from connected devices and the powerful AI required to make that data actionable are giving rise to a hybrid ecosystem in which cloud, on-prem and edge processes become interweaved. Attendees will learn how emerging composable infrastructure solutions deliver the adaptive architecture needed to manage this new data reality. Machine learning algorithms can better anticipate data storms and automate resources to support surges, including fully scalable GPU-centric compute for the most data-intensive applications. Hyperconverged systems already in place can be revitalized with vendor-agnostic, PCIe-deployed, disaggregated approach to composable, maximizing the value of previous investments.
When building large, cloud-based applications that operate at a high scale, it's important to maintain a high availability and resilience to failures. In order to do that, you must be tolerant of failures, even in light of failures in other areas of your application. "Fly two mistakes high" is an old adage in the radio control airplane hobby. It means, fly high enough so that if you make a mistake, you can continue flying with room to still make mistakes. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed how this same philosophy can be applied to highly scaled applications, and can dramatically increase your resilience to failure.
Machine learning has taken residence at our cities' cores and now we can finally have "smart cities." Cities are a collection of buildings made to provide the structure and safety necessary for people to function, create and survive. Buildings are a pool of ever-changing performance data from large automated systems such as heating and cooling to the people that live and work within them. Through machine learning, buildings can optimize performance, reduce costs, and improve occupant comfort by sharing information within the building and with outside city infrastructure via real time shared cloud capabilities.
As Cybric's Chief Technology Officer, Mike D. Kail is responsible for the strategic vision and technical direction of the platform. Prior to founding Cybric, Mike was Yahoo's CIO and SVP of Infrastructure, where he led the IT and Data Center functions for the company. He has more than 24 years of IT Operations experience with a focus on highly-scalable architectures.
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)

Best Recent Articles on Cloud Computing & Big Data Topics
As we enter a new year, it is time to look back over the past year and resolve to improve upon it. In 2014, we will see more service providers resolve to add more personalization in enterprise technology. Below are seven predictions about what will drive this trend toward personalization.
IT organizations face a growing demand for faster innovation and new applications to support emerging opportunities in social, mobile, growth markets, Big Data analytics, mergers and acquisitions, strategic partnerships, and more. This is great news because it shows that IT continues to be a key stakeholder in delivering business service innovation. However, it also means that IT must deliver new innovation despite flat budgets, while maintaining existing services that grow more complex every day.
Cloud computing is transforming the way businesses think about and leverage technology. As a result, the general understanding of cloud computing has come a long way in a short time. However, there are still many misconceptions about what cloud computing is and what it can do for businesses that adopt this game-changing computing model. In this exclusive Q&A with Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan, Rex Wang, Vice President of Product Marketing at Oracle, discusses and dispels some of the common myths about cloud computing that still exist today.
Despite the economy, cloud computing is doing well. Gartner estimates the cloud market will double by 2016 to $206 billion. The time for dabbling in the cloud is over! The 14th International Cloud Expo, co-located with 5th International Big Data Expo and 3rd International SDN Expo, to be held June 10-12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, N.Y. announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of providing or using massively scalable IT-related capabilities as a service using Internet technologies (see suggested topics below). Cloud computing helps IT cut infrastructure costs while adding new features and services to grow core businesses. Clouds can help grow margins as costs are cut back but service offerings are expanded. Help plant your flag in the fast-expanding business opportunity that is The Cloud, Big Data and Software-Defined Networking: submit your speaking proposal today!
What do you get when you combine Big Data technologies….like Pig and Hive? A flying pig? No, you get a “Logical Data Warehouse.” In 2012, Infochimps (now CSC) leveraged its early use of stream processing, NoSQLs, and Hadoop to create a design pattern which combined real-time, ad-hoc, and batch analytics. This concept of combining the best-in-breed Big Data technologies will continue to advance across the industry until the entire legacy (and proprietary) data infrastructure stack will be replaced with a new (and open) one.
While unprecedented technological advances have been made in healthcare in areas such as genomics, digital imaging and Health Information Systems, access to this information has been not been easy for both the healthcare provider and the patient themselves. Regulatory compliance and controls, information lock-in in proprietary Electronic Health Record systems and security concerns have made it difficult to share data across health care providers.
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Vanessa Alvarez has been named conference chair of Cloud Expo® 2014. 14th International Cloud Expo will take place on June 10-12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and 15th International Cloud Expo® will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
12th International Cloud Expo, held on June 10–13, 2013 at the Javits Center in New York City, featured four content-packed days with a rich array of sessions about the business and technical value of cloud computing led by exceptional speakers from every sector of the cloud computing ecosystem. The Cloud Expo series is the fastest-growing Enterprise IT event in the past 10 years, devoted to every aspect of delivering massively scalable enterprise IT as a service.
Ulitzer.com announced "the World's 30 most influential Cloud bloggers," who collectively generated more than 24 million Ulitzer page views. Ulitzer's annual "most influential Cloud bloggers" list was announced at Cloud Expo, which drew more delegates than all other Cloud-related events put together worldwide. "The world's 50 most influential Cloud bloggers 2010" list will be announced at the Cloud Expo 2010 East, which will take place April 19-21, 2010, at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, in New York City, with more than 5,000 expected to attend.
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.
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Larry Carvalho has been named Tech Chair of Cloud Expo® 2014. 14th International Cloud Expo will take place on June 10-12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and 15th International Cloud Expo® will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
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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Introducing Big Data Expo
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Cloud Expo was a fantastic event for CSS Corp - we easily exceeded our objectives for engaging with clients and prospects."
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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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Digital Transformation Blogs
As Cybric's Chief Technology Officer, Mike D. Kail is responsible for the strategic vision and technical direction of the platform. Prior to founding Cybric, Mike was Yahoo's CIO and SVP of Infrastructure, where he led the IT and Data Center functions for the company. He has more than 24 years of IT Operations experience with a focus on highly-scalable architectures.
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, regulatory scrutiny and increasing consumer lack of trust in technology in general.
René Bostic is the Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America. Enjoying her career with IBM during the modern millennial technological era, she is an expert in cloud computing, DevOps and emerging cloud technologies such as Blockchain. Her strengths and core competencies include a proven record of accomplishments in consensus building at all levels to assess, plan, and implement enterprise and cloud computing solutions. René is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a member of the Society of Information Management (SIM) Atlanta Chapter. She received a Business and Ec...
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Past SYS-CON Events
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Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
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Oracle

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AWS

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RightScale

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NYT

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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