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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, 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 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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New York City Expo Floor Plan Revealed
Cloud Expo New York
[June 11-14, 2012]

Floor Plan Revealed


Introducing Big Data Expo
Introducing
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
Cloud Expo New York.

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Testimonials
Cloud Expo was a fantastic event for CSS Corp - we easily exceeded our objectives for engaging with clients and prospects."
AHMAR ABBAS
SVP, Global Infrastructure Management, CSS Corp.
 
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..."
PETE MALCOLM
CEO, Abiquo
 
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!"
MARY BASS
Director of Marketing, UnivaUD
 
Cloud Expo helps focus the debate on the critical issues at hand in effect connecting main street with the next frontier."

GREG O’CONNOR
President & CEO, Appzero


Who Should Attend?
Senior Technologists including CIOs, CTOs, VPs of technology, IT directors and managers, network and storage managers, network engineers, enterprise architects, communications and networking specialists, directors of infrastructure Business Executives including CEOs, CMOs, CIOs, presidents, VPs, directors, business development; product and purchasing managers.


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@CloudExpo Blogs
Someone sent me a link to this article this morning. While reading it I started to think about the competitive landscape for cloud service providers and the challenges telcos have competing in this market. After all, when you think cloud service provider, which names come to mind? Amazon? Microsoft? IBM? Google? Sure, but how about… Read More »
"The next generation of technology solutions will transform lives, businesses and economies."
This is the theme at this year's Dell World opening keynote and this view is supported by Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015:

Computing Everywhere - As mobile devices continue to proli...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
Don’t emphasize network security at the cost of endpoint security; the two can be integrated and work hand in hand. The result is a safer, more secure business ready for the challenges of the future.
Reston, VA-based Serena focuses on working with enterprise IT to build and release applications. A DevOps pioneer and proponent, the company aims to solve applications release complexity. We had a few questions for Mark Levy, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Serena, and this is what he told us: DevOps Journal: What original problems were you working to solve with customers when you started the company? Mark Levy: Serena was founded in 1980 by Doug Troxel in Silicon Valley. Doug still takes a very active part in the company and serves on our board of directors. From the very beginning...
Veteran's 360 and Rick Collins, Founder & Executive Director of Vets 360, Inc., are being honored at this year's Champions Leadership, and Research Conference™ . This event, November 6th-7th, 2014 at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club in Durham, NC, is an independent conference, and a component of eMerging Entrepreneurs' “Veterans Economic Advancement project.” A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, eMerging Entrepreneurs, Inc. provides Career Transition Assistance, Small Business Training, and Entrepreneurial Developmental services to veterans, military spouses, and under-served minority comm...
Depending on whom you listen to, the private cloud is either dead or on the cusp of a major market breakthrough. Some tech pundits argue this technology has already been replaced by more efficient public cloud offerings and businesses just need time to catch up, while others claim there's a bright future for private solutions. Research supports the latter – according to IDC, spending on hosted private cloud services should hit $24 billion by 2016. Why? Because there's real value in this model. Here's a look at five compelling advantages of the private cloud. It's Not On-Premises (Necessarily...
When I took my operating systems fundamentals course in college I was taught that an operating system provides very specific capabilities that provides users with access compute resources for building and running applications. Over time as networking capabilities and bandwidth increased, the notion of a set of modules that interface between the user and the… Read More »
Over the last decade, cloud computing has undeniably become a critical component of the modern enterprise. It has evolved past Software-as-a-Service for a select number of enterprise applications to encompassing entire business platforms, spanning various business devices and operating systems, and can virtually enable new ventures to pop up overnight. The state of cloud computing today is now a crowded field of vendors, providing anything and everything as-a-service – from security and management solutions for the cloud, to converged solutions and virtualization offerings, to public, privat...
Thoroughly knowing the difference between the three prominent types of datacenter storage will help you immensely in job interviews, product pitches and tech conferences. Server storage is typically stored in one of three different methods. Since each acronym is similar, it is imperative for you to know the stark differences when discussing DAS, SAN and NAS.
Bitium, based in Santa Monica, CA, works in the cloud to provide secure management of an enterprise's applications, users, and passwords in one place. We asked company Co-founder and CEO Scott Kriz a few questions about the company's vision and strategy. Cloud Computing Journal: What was the inspiration behind starting the company? Scott Kriz: Both Erik Gustavson, Bitium Co-founder and CTO, and I have started and worked for multiple tech companies throughout our professional careers. Most recently we ran product and engineering at a company called Fastpoint Games. We used a ton of SaaS ...
For the third year in a row, we worked together with Pacific Crest Securities, an investment banking firm with a specific focus on SaaS, to survey 306 SaaS companies. This represents nearly double the # of respondents from last year, giving us deeper benchmarking data and insights to share on the growth and operations of […] Oct. 17, 2014 02:15 PM EDT  Reads: 1,857
IBM and SAP announced a major strategic agreement that integrates Big Blue's datacenter capabilities with Big Hasso's ongoing HANA cloud-based database initiative. IBM is investing $1.2 billion to build 15 new datacesnters as part of its SoftLayer acquisition and expansion, and will also use its existing IBM Cloud servers to support the new agreement with SAP. The announcement was made jointly in Armonk, NY and Walldorf, Germany. IBM is described by SAP as a “premier strategic provider” of cloud infrastructure services in the agreement, and the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud will now be availabl...
Appcore aims to simplify private cloud through Apache CloudStack solutions. Nate Gordon serves as the Des Moines, IA-based company's Director of Technology, in its effort to enhance Apache CloudStack and Citrix CloudPlatform for its customers. We had a few questions for him, and this is what he told us: Cloud Computing Journal: What have your customers found to be the advantages of using Apache CloudStack? Nate Gordon: Appcore understands that there are a lot of orchestration platforms in the market to chose from. Before we committed to one platform or the other, we did an extensive anal...
At the recent US Open Tennis in New York City the infrastructure was hosted on IBM's Cloud. Cloud is an ideal solution for such events since a scalable and on-demand architecture can be provisioned quickly, and then it can be taken down after the event as needed. During such events there is an overload on networks with people posting lots of messages on social media and tweets. Mobile technology is in full "swing" with people posting on phones, tablets and other devices. The IT infrastructure may need to scale to an estimated 40 times or more its regular size during such events. The United Sta...
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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