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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 - Cloud Looms Large on SYS-CON.TV


Cloud Expo 2013 East Opening Keynote by IBM
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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.

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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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Is your organization struggling to deal with skyrocketing volumes of digital assets? The amount of data is growing exponentially and organizations are having a hard time managing this growth. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Amar Kapadia, Senior Director of Open Cloud Strategy at Seagate, will walk through the essential considerations when developing a cloud storage strategy. In this discussion, you will understand the challenges IT is facing, why companies need to move to cloud, and how the right cloud model can help your business economically overcome the data struggle.
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Introducing Big Data Expo
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There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Get a jump on that rapidly evolving trend at Big Data Expo, which we are introducing in June at
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Cloud Expo was a fantastic event for CSS Corp - we easily exceeded our objectives for engaging with clients and prospects."
AHMAR ABBAS
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With our launch at Cloud Expo, we successfully transformed the company from a relatively unknown European player into the dominant player in the market. Our competitors were taken by surprise and just blown away. We got a huge number of really high quality leads..."
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


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Latest Blog Posts
Senior executives at large multinational enterprises are already demanding that their CIO has a plan in place to ensure that they can effectively procure public and private cloud services for their organization. In smaller companies, some IT managers are now expected to acquire the knowledge and skills to perform a similar role. Are they prepared? To find out, let's review a current IT resource assessment.
Over the past couple of days Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) has taken some hard knocks in the press. See here and here. PaaS has always had a hard life. It’s typical middle child syndrome. It’s older sibling SaaS is very mature and is growing considerably everyday thanks to the adoption by line-of-business leaders. It’s younger sibling, IaaS, gets all the attention from the uber geeks who prefer to manage everything themselves. Poor PaaS is left trying to wring out an identity for itself; some unique value that users can grasp onto. Unfortunately, the support PaaS needs to come into its own is hard to come by these days.
We (as in the industry at large) don't talk enough about applying architectural best practices with respect to emerging API and software-defined models of networking. But we should. That's because as we continue down the path that continues to software-define the network, using APIs and software development methodologies to simplify and speed the provisioning of network services, the more we run into if not rules, then best practices, that should be considered before we willy nilly start integrating all the network things.
The keys to the digital kingdom are credentials. In no industry is this more true (and ultimately more damaging) than financial services. The sophistication of the attacks used to gather those credentials and thwart the increasingly complex authentication process that guards financial transactions is sometimes staggering. That's because they require not just stealth but coordination across multiple touch points in the transaction process.

When you plan your migration to the cloud, and the cloud security best practices to secure it, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Here is some advice from the Fortune 500. Use these tips to learn from others’ successes and to avoid their failures – maybe their companies can afford “valuable” learning lessons, […]

The post Cloud Security Best Practices of the Fortune 500 appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.

The global village, mobile devices, online marketplaces, social networks, and on-demand entertainment all have a part to play. People all over the world are increasing the time they spend in the virtual world. They’re buying, selling, sharing, studying, developing apps, hanging out in social networks, and starting to use digital currencies that bypass traditional banking. Alongside these community-driven ideas, we are also seeing enormous change in business to business relationships. Cloud computing enables any size business to obtain and manage big-business manufacturing, warehousing, marketing, data analytics, enterprise applications and global spread. Supply chains are radically altered: a business of any size can buy, produce and sell globally, and leverage vertically and horizontally integrated supply chains.

#SDAS #IAM #IoT #Mobile The new requirements for app delivery include a focus on hyperscaling access to applications.

A plurality (48%) of enterprises deliver between 1 and 500 applications to consumers and employees. A somewhat surprising 21% deliver more than 1000 applications every day*.

Consider, now, the possible combinations (or is it permutations, I always mix those two up) that can be formed along with the increasing number of devices/connections per consumer and employee (predicted to hit 5 per individual by 2017 by Cisco). Oh, and don't forget to consider the potential impact from the Internet of Things. Things that need access to applications and data controlled by corporate access policies.

As you've probably already surmised, traditional access control technology isn't going to scale well in the face of that many potential entry points into the organization. In many cases, even modern access control solutions aren't going to scale - operationally or ...

The Internet has changed the way businesses are constructed: vertical integrations and home-grown systems are being steadily replaced by off-the-shelf solutions, SaaS integrations, and web-based workflows. Documents are no longer stored on a file server halfheartedly maintained by your IT department, they’re centralized in a document-storage site like Dropbox or Box.com. Productivity software is no longer something that lives on your desktop computer in your office, but rather on the cloud using Google Drive or Office365.
It was great catching up with Brian at VMworld, even if it was in the Tea Garden.  We go back a ways.  This 6 minute video clip discusses who will win the cloud wars and how CloudVelox differentiates from a dozen or so early cloud migration and DR tools.  
The problem with web application performance is directly related to the increasing page size and number of objects comprising pages today. Increasing corporate bandwidth (the pipe between the Internet and the organization) doesn't generally help. The law of diminishing returns is at work; at some point more bandwidth (like more hardware) just isn't enough because the problem isn't in how fast bits are traveling, but how many times bits are traversing the network.
Public cloud computing is surging forward into healthcare, finance, and utilities. Popular cloud based implementations run the gamut from big data analysis to customer service applications, and everything in between. As more and more sensitive data processing is done in the cloud, encryption of data has become the obvious best practice. Google Compute Engine has provided data encryption for some time; and in a recent interview, AWS’s CTO said they’d like all data, or at least all sensitive business data, to be always encrypted

Significant money is at stake and in need of protection in the Payment Card Industry (PCI). The global payment card industry covers several sectors: banks and financial institutions (acquirers), issuers, processors, service providers, merchants carrying out transactions online and via point of sale terminals in bricks and mortar stores, large and small. PCI Security The […]

The post PCI-DSS Encryption Requirements appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.

The cloud is expanding. More applications are being run online. More data is being stored online. More businesses are relying on public, private, and hybrid clouds for their apps, records, and backups. And more hackers are taking advantage. Why Security Breaches Happen in the Cloud Hackers aren’t attacking the cloud; the cloud is their access […]

The post Cloud Security Breaches and How to Avoid Them appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.

This post is the first in a multi-part series of posts on the many options for collecting and forwarding log data from different platforms and the pros and cons of each. In this first post we will focus on Syslog, and will provide background on the protocol. Syslog has been around for a number of decades and provides a protocol used for transporting event messages between computer systems and software applications. The protocol utilizes a layered architecture, which allows the use of any number of transport protocols for transmission of syslog messages. It also provides a message format that allows vendor-specific extensions to be provided in a structured way. Syslog is now standardized by the IETF in RFC 5424 (since 2009), but has been around since the 80's and for many years served as the de facto standard for logging without any authoritative published specification.
The software-defined data center (SDDC) and hyper-converged markets have been gaining significant steam of late, and last week’s VMworld event put an even brighter spotlight on the space. When considering hyper-converged infrastructure solutions, it’s important to note the distinction between "stack owners" and "stack dependents." Stack dependents are solutions that run in virtual machines and sit on top of another vendor's hypervisor. Stack owners are vendors who run on bare metal and build the entire stack themselves.
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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