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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IBM Plays Disk Doctor -- Drive Fitness Test tracks disk health independent of the operating system.(IBM Storage Systems Division's Drive Fitness Test allows VARs to perform remote diagnostic tests of clients' hard drives) (Product Information).

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If hard drives were shipped with a self-diagnostic reporting tool, system OEMs could check the health of the drives before they are sent to you. And, your customers could troubleshoot hard drive failures without tying up your technical support. Sound enticing? It should if you're interested in saving your technician's time on-site. You'd like to enable your technician to avoid an unnecessary visit by troubleshooting the problem remotely. IBM Storage Systems Division's Drive Fitness Test (DFT) makes this possible.

When VARs suspect a hard drive-related problem, what's the usual reaction? Without a thorough examination, a quick fix for many VARs is to simply replace the drive. However, according to Henri Richard, vice president of sales and marketing for worldwide distribution at IBM Storage Systems Division, the hard drive is usually not the root of hard drive failure. "Approximately 80 percent of the drives that are thought to be faulty really have no problems," he says. "Something needed to be done."

The faulty drives are sent back to the OEM manufacturer and tested. Those deemed healthy are marked as No Defect Found (NDF). When the hard drive is listed as NDF, the end user receives a new one but the original problem still remains. Eventually, the VAR will end up hearing from the same end user again. This situation can be prevented with the DFT.

Prior to the DFT, determining the root of the problem was cumbersome. Mark Romanowski, vice president of services for VAR Jade Systems Corp, Long Island City, N.Y., says, "The first thing you have to figure out is if it's a hardware issue, a configuration issue or a software issue. In most cases, it's not a hardware issue-it's a software issue of one kind or another." To find out the root of the problem, Romanowski is forced to perform time-consuming diagnostic tests and troubleshooting tasks.

When Romanowski gets a call regarding a malfunctioning hard drive, he says it can take up to an hour to determine the problem. "In a warranty situation, you're not going to go to the site with the part. If you did your triage and you still don't know what the problem is, then you wind up sending an engineer to troubleshoot the situation without the drive," he says. "It's stupid to order the drive, because manufacturers look at how many parts you replace."

He adds that manufacturers penalize resellers with a history of an unusually high number of product replacements. "A manufacturer doesn't want you to order five parts to fix the problem-they want you to diagnose the problem."

IBM's DFT is designed to help VARs service their clients by enabling resellers to perform a remote diagnostic test on the hard drive, independent of the operating system. As a result, VARs can determine if the problem actually lies within the hard drive.

"The DFT only takes up a few hundred kilobytes on the disk drive," says IBM's Richard. "A reseller simply invokes a sequence of keys, and the drive will boot. The reseller would then load the code and do a full test. The DFT will tell if the drive has a problem or if it is about to have a problem. If your operating system is damaged you can still test the drive, because the test runs separately from the system."

Driving the Technology

The DFT uses a PC-based program to access an IBM hard disk drive microcode, enabling the OEM system manufacturers and service providers to accurately diagnose the proper operation of hard drives. The DFT microcode automatically logs significant error events, such as hard drive errors, and a history of all reassigned sectors. This log is kept in a special reserved area of the drive.

The DFT microcode also performs mechanical analysis of the hard drive in real time. Parameters such as disk shift, servo stability and Repeatable Runout can be calculated dynamically by reading the server's Position Error Signal and analyzing the patterns.

By using standard Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.), as well as other microcode features, the DFT software diagnoses the state of the hard drive. The DFT software is expected to be bundled with other diagnostic software by the system OEM to offer a standalone package. DFT is standalone because it runs under DOS independent of the end-user operating system. Since the end-user operating system is unaware of the existence of DFT software, once DOS is booted, DFT can log whether or not the other software is operating properly.

According to Richard, VARs can provide a unique value to the sale of IBM's hard drives by extending the warning notice to be as granular as possible, depending on the OEM setup.

The DFT software supports three test modes: Quick Test, Media Scan and Exerciser.

The first mode, the Quick Test, is a two-minute test designed to accurately diagnose the status in more than 90 percent of hard drive failure call situations. The Quick Test mode can determine whether there has been error-free operation during the life of the drive. It is intended to run while the customer is on the phone with a technical support engineer.

In the Media Scan mode, DFT performs the Quick Test and also reads every sector to verify full media data integrity. The Media Scan mode is run by the system OEM during system manufacture to verify the media surface. Media Scan mode can also be run by an end user who suspects defective media sectors might exist. Depending on the hard drive capacity, this test can take 15 to 20 minutes.

In Exerciser mode, DFT performs random reads and writes for a user-specified length of time. This mode simulates normal drive use, and is designed to capture the small class of intermittent problems that can appear and disappear.

"As a former VAR, I think this is fantastic. It will reduce service calls," says Richard.

Romanowski is ecstatic about DFT and welcomes the technology with open arms. "I think it's out of this world. I agree with IBM that many hard drive failures are not hardware-related. I think this tool would be fantastic, not just for the end user, but for me. I want to be armed with that recovery information before I help the end user."

A Total Solution?

While the technology is expected to facilitate the recovery period, it is not a total diagnostic and recovery tool. The DFT only checks the status of the hard drive. "Suppose, as is mostly the case, the client says, 'I've got a problem with workstation 72,' and you determine remotely that it's not a hard drive problem. Have you solved the customer's concern or not?" asks Bill Bennett, director of network services at LogicData, based in Denver. "The answer is no, you have not. You still have to determine what is wrong with workstation 72."

If the problem is not the hard drive, the DFT will list what is working properly so the reseller can derive what the problem might be through a process of elimination.

As a result, Bennett uses a total system diagnostic tool for non-hardware related issues. Bennett says DFT would save him a tremendous amount of time if he could determine whether or not it is a hardware problem remotely. With his current diagnostic tool, he is required to visit the customer's site to do the repair. "We wouldn't have to run an additional diagnostic software tool if we can get reliable feedback from diagnostics installed on the drive," he says.

Depending on your repair strategies, DFT can be good news or bad news. The good news is the time saved by expediting the recovery time. However, if you replace the hard drive just to be reimbursed for your work, you're not going to be a big fan of the DFT, since it is designed to minimize unnecessary returns. Returning fully functional drives to manufacturers is a sneaky, yet enticing way for VARs to make more money. "The reason a lot of resellers just say, 'The drive is bad, let me just replace it,' is because they know they get paid [by the manufacturer]," says Jade Systems' Romanowski.

In most cases, when the problem is not hard drive related, Romanowski does not charge his clients. This explains why clandestine resellers try to garner a few extra dollars from hard drive manufacturers, since they will not be reimbursed for non-hard drive related issues.

Along with Romanowski, Bennett prefers to take the high road. "We always check the software before the hardware."

One concern Romanowski has regarding the DFT is "if the drive can be fixed, will the manufacturer pay the VAR for fixing the drive rather than replacing it?"

"The relationship between the VAR and OEM, based on providing the hard drive repair service, is up to the OEMs," says Richard. "But, obviously there is a value for OEMs. So, maybe they'll be able to share some of that value [with VARs]."

Richard says all new IBM notebook hard drives shipping after Fall Comdex will be bundled with DFT. This makes sense, since notebooks take more abuse than desktop systems. Desktop hard drives bundled with DFT should soon follow in the coming year, but no anticipated entry date has been set, he says.

"In terms of us being an independent drive supplier like Seagate or Quantum, we're not known," he says. The company's DFT, however, may change that image.

-Quick Scan

IBM Storage Systems Division

San Jose, Calif. (800) 442-6773,

www.storage.ibm.com/ads

Product Specifications

DFT's four standard states of diagnosis:

1. Drive is defective.

2. Drive has been damaged by shock.

3. Drive will soon fail (S.M.A.R.T. flag set).

4. Drive is operating properly and replacement is not necessary.

Source Citation
Myron, David. "IBM Plays Disk Doctor -- Drive Fitness Test tracks disk health independent of the operating system." VARbusiness 17 Aug. 1998: 75. General OneFile. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.
Document URL
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