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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
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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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@CloudExpo Blogs
Virtualization is everywhere. Enormous and highly profitable companies have been built on nothing but virtualization. And nowhere has virtualization made more of an impact than in Cloud Computing, the rampant and unprecedented adoption of which has been the direct result of the wide availability of virtualization software and techniques that enabled it. But does the cloud actually require virtualization?
There’s a lot of discussion around managing outages in production via the likes of DevOps principles and the corresponding software development lifecycles that does enable higher quality output from development, however, one cannot lay all blame for “bugs” and failures at the feet of those responsible for coding and development. As developers incorporate features and benefits of these paradigm shift, there is a learning curve and a point of not-knowing-what-is-not-known. Sometimes, the only way to learn is to actually put code into production and monitor its performance and actions.
The last decade was about virtual machines, but the next one is about containers. Containers enable a service to run on any host at any time. Traditional tools are starting to show cracks because they were not designed for this level of application portability. Now is the time to look at new ways to deploy and manage applications at scale. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Jake Moshenko, Product Manager at CoreOS, will examine how CoreOS + Quay.io fit into the development lifecycle from pushing git changes all the way through to running in production. Attendees will understand how different ...
I’ve been thinking a bit about microservices (μServices) recently. My immediate reaction is to think: “Isn’t this just yet another new term for the same stuff, Web Services->SOA->APIs->Microservices?” Followed shortly by the thought, “well yes it is, but there are some important differences/distinguishing factors.” Microservices is an evolutionary paradigm born out of the need for simplicity (i.e., get away from the ESB) and alignment with agile (think DevOps) and scalable (think Containerization) development and deployment architectures. Martin Fowler and James Lewis defined nine core charac...
Right off the bat, Newman advises that we should "think of microservices as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile Software development". These analogies are very interesting because my expectation was that microservices is a pattern. So I might infer that microservices is a set of process techniques as opposed to an architectural approach. Yet in the book, Newman clearly includes some elements of concept model and architecture as well as process and organization.
How can you compare one technology or tool to its competitors? Usually, there is no objective comparison available. So how do you know which is better? Eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA? Java EE or Spring? C# or Java? All you can usually find is a holy war and biased comparisons on vendor sites. But luckily, sometimes, you can find a fair comparison. How does this come to be? By having it co-authored by the stakeholders. The binary repository comparison matrix is one of those rare resources. It is edited by JFrog, Sonatype and Archiva committers to provide you with an objective picture; every vendor a...
SAP is delivering break-through innovation combined with fantastic user experience powered by the market-leading in-memory technology, SAP HANA. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce, SAP, discussed how SAP and partners provide cloud and hybrid cloud solutions as well as real-time Big Data offerings that help companies of all sizes and industries run better. SAP launched an application challenge to award the most innovative SAP HANA and SAP HANA Cloud platforms applications. Out of many contenders, the best applications have been selected by m...
There is no question that the cloud is where businesses want to host data. Until recently hypervisor virtualization was the most widely used method in cloud computing. Recently virtual containers have been gaining in popularity, and for good reason. In the debate between virtual machines and containers, the latter have been seen as the new kid on the block – and like other emerging technology have had some initial shortcomings. However, the container space has evolved drastically since coming onto the cloud hosting scene over 10 years ago. So, what has changed? In his session at 16th Cloud E...
The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential. The DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo – to be held June 3-5, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City – will expand the DevOps community, enable a wide sharing of knowledge, and educate delegates and technology providers alike. Recent research has sho...
The launch of the Shopify IPO on the NYSE is a leap forward and a testimony tothe high quality of the Canadian technology sector. In its first trading day, Shopify was oversubscribed by 51% As a solution-focused company, for us it’s a day of pride and tribulations to see a fellow technology company launching a successful IPO on one of the world’s greatest trading desks, Shopify, that started with humble beginnings, is one of the latest IPO’s to hit the market that is both tech, and Canadian. As a Canadian company Shopifys IPO success is a testimony to Canada being a breeding ground for world-...
The cloud computing infrastructure and platform market is expected to be a $43 billion market by 2018 and account for 11% of enterprise IT spending. At this point in the war we can say that AWS is the winner of the cloud infrastructure market segment only. The platform market (and what I believe is the more lucrative segment) is still up for grabs. The recent revenue announcement by AWS demonstrates what they mean for the industry and their focus on cloud since the beginning has given AWS leadership status. Microsoft and Google, of course, have been working hard, albeit lagging, in the battle ...
DoubleDown Interactive, a provider of online free-to-play casino games, needs to process huge amounts of streaming event data from their games and make that data rapidly available to data scientists and analysts. Hear how Amazon S3 and Snowflake’s Elastic Data Warehouse have made it possible for DoubleDown to deploy a reliable, scalable data architecture for their analytics needs. You’ll learn how Amazon S3 and Snowflake technology help address key challenges in building data pipelines and processing data and how DoubleDown combines Amazon Kinesis, S3, and Snowflake to ingest, store, and proc...
Mobile, social, Big Data, and cloud have fundamentally changed the way we live. “Anytime, anywhere” access to data and information is no longer a luxury; it’s a requirement, in both our personal and professional lives. For IT organizations, this means pressure has never been greater to deliver meaningful services to the business and customers. New tools, technologies, and frameworks have evolved recently to help manage rapid shifts in the technology landscape, but they’re only as good as the underlying processes that exist within the organization. As lines of business change or add requiremen...
It was recently revealed that Linux-powered drones were released which has unveiled a new frontier for open source software. Drone control, once limited to proprietary software, has now entered the open source realm. This opens up new possibilities of more flexible platforms for many Internet-connected objects as well as sparking conversation among the open source community about its potential relationship with the Internet of Things (IoT). Open source software has allowed drone builders and programmers to create a platform using a free open source software development kit. In some cases, i...
In “Thinking Like a Data Scientist – Part I”, we examined the challenges for getting the business users to think like data scientists when contemplating where and how to leverage big data to drive business value. We introduced a “Thinking Like a Data Scientist” process that starts with identifying and understanding the organization’s top-level strategic business initiatives, then uses a “Strategic Nouns” technique to create potential business questions that were descriptive, predictive or in nature.
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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