From the lab to the living room: How automation helped us make progress during lockdown

Andy Norrie

Posted: 22nd June 2020


While working on the firmware for our latest Cable Tester product, COVID-19 forced me (and almost everyone else at Quarch) out of the office and into home working.


Testing every possible fault combination we need to detect is hard enough when I have physical access to the unit. Doing so from home looked almost impossible.


Tests for the new Cable Tester include:

– Power cycling the product

– Simulating intermittent faults in a cable

– Simulating a broken cable

– Creating a crossover mapping on high-speed lanes


The first part of the solution came when one of the other engineers hooked up one of our PPMs to power the cable tester.  This allowed him to power cycle the unit without someone in the office going over to flip the switch. That got me thinking…


We need to confirm the Cable Tester can detect a wide range of faulty cables, and we already make a Cable Breaker. Using our SAS Cable breaker product will allow me to automatically create both intermittent and permanent failures on the cables.


We also make a Physical Layer SAS switch. This operates lane-by-lane, allowing me to swap lanes, create loopbacks, and even illegal topologies. 


These parts can be combined together:

1) The PPM provides power to the Cable Tester, also allowing us to monitor its consumption (Note: SAS4 uses a lot more power than SAS3


2) The Cable Tester plugs into two ports on the switch. A Cable Breaker plugs into another 2 ports. The remaining ports are used to attach various SAS cables in a loopback configuration.


Now with a couple of python commands, I can route any of the cables into the tester.  Choose to add the Breaker, or leave it out of the circuit. 


This vastly increases the amount of remote testing that is possible. It removes the need for destructive testing on expensive cables. The need for any manual intervention is eliminated. The whole process can be automated.


With the (likely long term) move to work from home, it’s more important than ever to make full use of automation options.


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