Workstation Diagnostics: The Doctor is In

Workstations – especially Lenovo workstations – are built for optimal reliability due to advances in thermal management and other critical design features. Because of these innovations, users can rest easy knowing their workstations will perform at 100 percent even under the most demanding circumstances and workflows.

Except when they don’t.

Like all things in life, some measure of uncertainty is inevitable, and even the best-performing and most reliable systems can experience problems that cause them to run at less than optimal rates. These issues, if not addressed quickly, can create challenges for the user, such as machine downtime and reduced productivity – neither of which is acceptable no matter the industry in which the user works. When this happens, the user will typically reach out to IT and get them involved without understanding the heart of the issue, which takes additional time and can result in further delays in resolving it. What’s a workstation user to do?

The issue at the heart of this matter is diagnostics, an often overlooked aspect of workstation design. Users and IT departments need to quickly understand what’s causing problems with the workstation so they can quickly resolve them and, in some cases, anticipate potential future issues. Too frequently, this aspect of workstations falls by the wayside.

When our engineers designed the Lenovo ThinkStation P Series workstations, they decided to defy the conventional approach and emphasize diagnostics as part of the workstation’s design. The team set out to answer a question: how can we provide the user with more comprehensive diagnostic information, but without adding substantial additional cost?

It started with the Super I/O chip, a standard component in workstations that interfaces with a variety of system operations, such as thermal monitoring, fan control and others. Lenovo’s engineers asked themselves: if this chip can monitor these types of functions, what else can it monitor? They then developed a list of events that most frequently affect system reliability. Using this information, they added code to the Super I/O chip to catalogue and capture critical diagnostic events during normal operation and alert users when issues occurred, as well as keep a history of operation within the Lenovo Service Center.

The benefits of using the Super I/O chip to capture diagnostic information were two-fold: users were notified immediately of hardware-related issues as they happened and, perhaps more importantly, had a history of system operation that would enable them to understand and prevent possible future events. All of this functionality was designed into a component already in the system and provided to the user at a negligible cost.

But that’s not all. To add to the robust diagnostic functionality of the P Series, Lenovo’s engineers looked to another common area – the USB port – and considered how they might use it to enhance diagnostic capabilities. The innovative solution they came up was also a simple one: turning one of the USB ports on the front of the machines into a diagnostic port, with a blinking light to notify the user when an issue occurred. The team then developed a custom Android smartphone app that, when alerted, would allow them to plug in their phone and analyze key diagnostic information to identify the source of the issue. The whole system functions seamlessly, like on-board diagnostics for your car, providing additional value for the user and enabling the continuous uptime that is so essential to their work.

All of this functionality was incorporated into the P Series not as a standalone feature, but rather as part of a complete workstation solution. The port was incorporated after extensive discussions with customers about their needs and demands for a reliable workstation, and was always intended to serve as a piece of the larger reliability picture that is the Lenovo ThinkStation P Series. When coupled with the leading performance and world-class reliability of the machines, we firmly believe this provides our customers with a complete package to meet all of their needs.

Regardless of the industry, workstation issues are always going to occur. It’s simply inevitable when you’re working with high-performing machinery.  But thanks to the Lenovo ThinkStation P Series, workstation users never have to be in the dark when issues related to the hardware on their machines do happen. It’s another innovation we’ve built into these machines, and we’re proud to be able to offer it to our customers.