Why releasing firmware updates should be done often

I have developed, maintained and sold as product manager many devices. Many devices with firmware, like Routers, Mediaplayers but also NAS Devices.
you can say that I am expert on various levels (from Technical point of view, but also from Marketing / Commercial side making the right choices for the company and customers).
One of the latest products I created from idea to end product (of course with the help of other people) was the a very nice NAS available on the market today.
it won around 7 prices (WOW!, we actually did something good).
Unfortunately I am not involved in that project anymore as I am no longer employed, but I am still following the process of this product, as I think this product is still awesome, with Private Cloud (with Tonido) and the Marvell 6282 chipset .. (Best features, performance and quality for the price you are paying).

But every product has bugs and my idea is always to test the device on main topics to see if a firmware upgrade can be done safely and if data will not affected. If so, check the release notes and test the fixed bugs or new items inside. Release the firmware as a beta firmware and have it tested further by your userbase. Make a single point of contact and collect the input of the users. of course it will take time, but the buzz about your support and device will be granted with people advising your product to other customers/users.

When people are postive about the beta, make this beta public and go further with another beta.

I have seen great success with the Conceptronic CH3SNAS and CH3MNAS where I released many fw, but also for the Conceptronic CFULLHDMA(i) where I released almost every week a new firmware. (I had around 700 beta testers, and from those 700 around 50 gave me daily/weekly input of their tests.. Awesome. (not only for me, but also for the factory). I can say that due to this, more devices have been sold than if we would not have done it.
unfortunately above 3 devices are not sold anymore nor maintained by Conceptronic or manufacturing factory. As long as you buy in good quantities a factory is willing to maintain it, or you pay a nice NRE fee and they run for you as well ;-)

Your keyusers will love this way of working (you show development / progress). And Less experienced users will not even try to upgrade, but will do this only when they encounter an issue or have called with your local service desk and are requested to upgrade safely to a released version.

I encountered an issue at my side some time ago: I was unable to store more than 88% of the total disksize of the NAS. After 88% copying of files to the NAS was giving a lot of troubles.. which resulted in broken and failing copy actions. Bummer …
I do not know if there are more users having this issue cause it might only happen when you store a lot of data and files (I was using a 6TB RAID0 configuration)
so to store more than 4.5TB will take some time ;)

I deleted a lot of files and I was able to store data again.. I forgot about this issue for some months but I saw it again when I tried to copy 2.5TB of data last week. Checking the website: no new fw release. ??? That’s wierd cause I expected a new one as I know that there are some things what could be improved.

So this time I was not that happy and took some time to analyze the issue. It looks like it was related to samba, but after debugging the logfiles there was no real error what could be related that samba was failing.

To make a story short: I found out that the kernel version the NAS was using did not optimze the filesystem nodes properly. So a lot of space was wasted when there came data in or out. As a result of this there was no space anymore to store more nodes when we store more data in the system.
I managed to update the kernel (do not ask me how)…(Actually you need an ssh enabled fw release (not available to the public), the official fw release did not enable ssh (removed). No idea if a released GNU/GPL sourcecode will give you the opportunity to upgrade the kernel image.

for me by only upgrading the kernel:

1. My 88% issue was fixed, I can store data again and as a positive side affect:
2. Improvement of write speed towards the NAS: the device reached a 40MB/s write speed what I never saw before. Finally the Marvell chip could be used what it was designed for… Storing at this speed was not seen before. (Read speed around 50MB/s but I have seen a 65MB/s, which was the top, but could not be maintained).
very very satisfactory.

I wish they will release a fw update soon .. because unfortunately it seems that no new firmware upgrade has been released yet. I do not know why, and actually I do not want to know why …
but I think that their policy is not to release firmware upgrades often and first test it internally.
A totally different strategy than what I should have proposed or done. As single person a device like a NAS has too many features you can test in a timely matter and in various configuration settings. You need the help of others.

People might disagree about releasing firmware upgrades often.. If so: I would love to hear the comments why a vendor should not release (beta) firmware often.

Note: I have not mentioned names of the NAS device nor I have mentioned brands and factory names as I think this is not important for this story.

2 thoughts on “Why releasing firmware updates should be done often

  1. Hello Dennis,

    as you problably expect, i fully agree with you. BUT many vendors just provide the bet software/firmware WITHOUT providing:
    * What has changed
    * What was fixed
    * What is new
    * Where do i report errors
    If the vendor expects you to find that out, my gues is that 50% will give up with each step. And in the end you will receive NO Feedback.

    Also when the vendor receives feedback, why do they not work publicly with the community? Why not add someone from the company who then cares about writing in forums and talking to developers. E.g. Some parts could be developed by community members and incorporated into the firmware. There are many skilled devs out there.

    Where i’m at it. Why do vendors always hide the API for everything. Why is it so complicated to have a different e.g. fan control solution? or blink leds and so on.

    There are so many points where vendors go wrong in the communication… most of them think that we as the users need to come to them. That is just wrong. Either come to me and try to talk to me or you will hit a wall.

    Just my two cents ;)

    Best Regards,

  2. Hi Uli,

    yes indeed, many times release notes are ‘forgotten’. Not by the manufacturer but by the people who make it public. It is not about not willing it is about: people do not care; I have heard excuses like: people do not need to know; Inform about new features: ok, but bug fixing.. uhmmm

    Some vendors are dedicated to 1 certain productrange but there are also vendors who are more OEM/ODM and they have much more to handle. (much more different type of products)

    Working with the community needs to have people at the product management and support side to embrace the idea and to keep supporting it. I have seen that due to internal structures these kind of developments were stalled or even never set up properly.

    Creating a NAS is about 2 things
    Hardware – Software. If you are capable of building your own software, you can do much more than an OEM/ODM which cannot

    I have worked with factories where I had to rely on the software of the vendor or of 3rd parties. Than you have to fight for all changes you want to have. Such vendor wants to have NRE fees or allow only certain bugs of features to be added x time a year if they have enough resources available (manpower).

    A lot of functions are not public available as they want to keep their property running soley on their device.

    It’s not the manufacturer wish that you do a write to /dev/mtd3 for example to upgrade the kernel. What will happen if you fail: every device returned is a loss.

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