Why Your Data Center Hardware Support Provider Must Continually Invest in a Robust R&D Lab

By Craig Wilson, Top Gun

The amount of investment any TPM (Third Party Maintenance) provider makes in their engineering lab has a direct impact on the level of mission critical support they’re truly able to provide.

As is required by any multi-vendor (OEM) maintenance provider, the breadth and depth of various platforms must be significant to proactively shorten repair times, improve upon SLAs and provide a level of service quality that matches or exceeds your expectations for your mission critical systems.

Here are the “Top 10 Benefits,” realized by Top Gun, after ongoing significant investments in its R&D (engineering) lab facility at our Prior Lake, Minnesota, headquarters.

  1. Hands-On & Ongoing Training for mentoring young engineers on “live” machines using the service procedures designed by the OEM to maintain the hardware and firmware.Learning the fundamentals of how a specific machine is built and operates is essential to grooming critical technical skills of young engineers or cross-training L3s on additional platforms.Having live machines to disassemble, reassemble and test allows the engineer to fully understand the machine and build confidence in their ability to troubleshoot, resolve common failures, as well as, complex failures.
  1. Spare Parts Quality Assurance is possible only when test-bed machines are used to process and validate the quality of spare parts before they are shipped to forward stocking locations.Commonly relied-upon spare parts include disk drives, memory DIMMs, cooling fans and power supplies. Having a proper facility to process and validate the working quality of these spare parts is crucial to providing client-assumed mission critical support.
  1. Problem Re-creation for Root Cause Analysis and validation of resolution routines. For complex failures, recreating the problem in the safe environment of a lab allows engineering teams to develop a Technical Action Plan (TAP) to efficiently resolve the discovered problem.
  1. Remote Access for Level 3 Support specialists to consoles on live machines during and throughout support incidents.While providing remote support to onsite field engineers, Level 3 support specialists benefit by having access to machines and consoles to aid them as they guide the onsite engineer throughout troubleshooting and resolution.
  1. Develop & Build-Upon New Mission-Critical Support Capabilities is possible only within a proper lab facility, that’s continually supported by ongoing investments.It is important to protect the investment made in new products by installing them in a lab that has proper environmental conditions, similar to those found in your data centers.Research and development tasks are better performed in this climate-controlled and pristine environment, as opposed to small labs set-up in rudimentary warehouses or worse – dirty garages.
  1. Testing New Firmware Updates, for client guidance, is best done on live machines in precise or carefully mimicked environments.Some OEMs provide firmware updates for machines that are not on their hardware maintenance contract.It is prudent to evaluate these firmware/microcode updates in the safe environment of a lab before installing them on production machines at a client site, to minimize the risk of an outage.
  1. Capability to Stage, Test & Configure Complete Systems to client specifications before they ship to the site.The complex systems sold by our hardware sales teams can be properly configured and tested in our lab to match the exacting specifications of the client. Our hardware sales team specializes in pre-owned (lower cost), refurbished servers, data storage and network hardware.
  1. Engineers Rehearse & Perfect Upgrade Installation Procedures. Installing upgrades, in a concurrent manner, within a production data center, requires procedures that have been tested and refined in the safe environment of the lab environment.
  1. Develop & Fine-Tune Call-Home & Remote Support Refined and successful call-home solutions are a result of having a multitude of machines and systems running in a lab that allow senior engineers to perfect the filtering rules that eliminate noisy administrative housekeeping-type alerts, and then prioritize those that need the immediate attention of Level 3 support teams and clients.
  1. Mimicked Client Environments Creates Mission-Critical Readiness. Using live systems, engineers learn how to perform operational procedures normally performed by clients.Binding together our multitude of servers, storage and networking machines allows us to create systems and environments, much like those in operational data centers. Engineers can expand their skills beyond a single machine platform to understand and rehearse basic operational procedures.These procedures include configuring and activating Logical Partitions (LPARS), Initial Program Load (IPL) of Operating Systems, spinning up and deploying Virtual Machines, performing tape management and storage administration routines.

If you’re not familiar with Top Gun, I’d encourage you to follow our company profile at LinkedIn (be sure to hit the blue “Follow” button) and then peruse or bookmark our company website.

My greatest recommendation, however, is to schedule an intro-level dialogue with our sales team, then a subsequent dialogue to include sales, product management and engineering leadership.

I look forward to meeting you and working to earn your trust.

Blog Author Details

Craig Wilson

EVP, Engineering

Top Gun

Craig’s LinkedIn Profile