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Timelines, delays and why shipping is only now happening in June!

Rating: 4 votes, 4.00 average.
by , 06-07-2013 at 12:08 PM (16274 Views)
Ok, so after seeing the almost incessant carrying on about Jalapenos being shipped before Little Singles/Singles/Minirigs/the kitchen sink as well as people complaining that it has taken so long for BFL to deliver anything, I've decided to write this blog entry in the hope it might get a few more people to understand why we are at the point we are today.

First up, I work(ed) in IT, doing all sorts of things from helpdesk to business analysis and project management. I have worked as a coder, designer, script following helldesk monkey, 2nd/3rd level support and resolution, system architect and a whole pile of other things. I have managed projects that have gone well, and projects that have been complete disasters. I have applied what I have learned to how I've seen things progress at BFL and below is what I think has caused the delays and issues we have seen. These are my own opinions, based largely on what I've seen on these forums, in the shoutbox, on grnbrg's twitter feed and on IRC.

First up, we have the product. Development of a dedicated device using non standard parts to mine bitcoins faster than anything else that currently exists while using less power than anything that has come before it to do the same task. BFL has had some experience doing similar, develping a dedicated device that mines bitcoins using an FPGA as the core processor. Faster and more efficient than a GPU, but really little more than a cut-down developer board for the same chip that many other devices use in the world. Requires development of a nifty little case, custom board and some firmware to run the thing. Total requirements: Engineer to make the box, electrical engineer and/or computer scientist to work on the FPGA, firmware and board design. Potential risks of supply are minimal, risks of the FPGA being unsuitable are minimal as it can be reprogrammed easily. SHA-256 engine design can be purchased from 3rd party, further minimising timeframe.

Lets now look at the ASIC. Also requires a nifty case (easy). Requires redesign of engines to take full advantage of ASIC design and minimise power consumption while maximising hashing output (difficult). Requires board to host ASICs, which is dependent on design of the ASIC itself and can not really be done beforehand. Requires firmware to run the whole thing (easy) however this requires at the very least an idea of the board design and ASIC specifications.

Critical path: develop ASIC, develop board, develop firmware.

This is what BFL has pretty much done. The original timeline for the project may have been about four or so months, assuming preorder was when the project kicked off. Where things became unstuck was when things went wrong.
ASIC and board design can to an extent be run in parallel, once you know the physical shape and number of pins on the ASIC, as well as what the pins will do (power, data, ground). This would have been going along just fine, until it turned out that QFN packaging was unsuitable for the ASIC that had been designed due to overheating. I'd guess a crisis meeting would have taken place which would have discussed options on how to proceed, such as:
cancel orders, refund everything and stop the project
proceed with QFN design of ASIC and lose the targets on power consumption and hash rate
replace QFN design with something else (BGA) that will overcome the physical constraints.
design a whole new ASIC that will work with QFN packaging.

All options would have had their drawbacks. Cancel orders and refund everything would probably have meant the end of BFL, if not at the time in the future when competitors developed working designs. Not to mention the loss of reputation. Proceeding with the QFN design would allow a product to market sooner, however it would be well below promised spec (cue class actions, refunds, whinging, mayhem, etc). Replacing the QFN design would require a rework of the current wafers (if even possible) and a complete rework of the board design. Any existing boards would be useless and money would be lost on any parts that could no longer be used, as well as requiring additional time to repeat the development processes. Designing a whole new ASIC to use the existing QFN packaging would take even longer, have no guarantee of success and might not have even been possible with the technology available.

BFL proceeds with the change in chip design. Existing board design is thrown out the window and started again, although many chunks could be reused. New boards need to be ordered from the supplier, and new chips need to be fabricated. Decision needs to be made on how to test the modified/new wafers, testing before cutting and mounting will cost an entire wafer, but will be faster than waiting the whole time for the foundry to do its thing. Foundry and other external suppliers already have existing commitments and will only go as fast as they choose to, no matter what BFL does. Time progresses and finally after almost having to restart the project from scratch (or at least half way through), a product is finally built. It gets tested, but doesn't perform to spec. Power requirements are a lot higher than predicted for the promised hashrate. This is bad news for the Jalapeno line which is suppose to be USB powered.

Further crisis meetings occur, except this time for the boards. Testing shows the USB powered jalapeno will not work, it just pulls too much power. Parts of the board are getting hotter than they should and nobody can figure out why without doing even more testing, all of which takes more time. The USB powered jalapeno is scrapped and the little single external powered design is used instead, just with fewer lower spec chips. This will cost more but at least it will work. Boards are reworked to suit
Little Single, Single and MiniRig designs are determined to require a redesign of board to support more chips run at lower clock rate. (Not having more information available, I'd guess this is to do with inefficiencies and heat generation when running the ASICs at the highest possible speed). This means yet another board redesign, not to mention further fabrication, sourcing and all that is involved with essentially making a whole new product.

Instead of the original four month timeline, the project has now blown out by a factor of two with the board and ASIC redesign. Add to that delays with the production of the chips (at least another month) and discovering the end product still did not meet original design specifications (a month or more on trying to get the power issue under control). Doubling the project timeframe brings us to February 2013, adding two and a half more months, to April/May 2013. Now add the discovery that a whole new board is needed (add another month, the longboard looks like two shortboards stuck together so redesign should be faster) and you get to June 2013. The Jalapenos, while no longer USB powered, fundamentally work at the hashrate promised. BFL is now way over their original timeframe.

What do they do?

Left, right and center you have people, customers and competition calling you a scam. Customers are asking for refunds or completed products. There is only one way out of a situation like this if you want to survive and that is to deliver what you have got, even if it isn't the whole end product. Therefore, BFL starts shipping Jalapeno units, even though the LS/S/MR aren't ready yet. The competition is already shipping product and new competitors are on the horizon, so it is the only way to claw back market share and restore some semblance of customer faith. By shipping the Jalapenos you silence the people screaming scam, and also put a product out to market that will attract more customers, as higher order numbers ensure you can order larger batches from suppliers and get them more quickly. It also ensures that customer complaining is tempered by those who now have devices to hash with. While proceeding with Jalapeno production and shipping, continue work on the MR as higher priority (as cancelled orders of these will hurt a lot more), followed by Single then Little Single.

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  1. stevenmartin99's Avatar
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    As much as all of this is probably true, there is one issue.

    Some customers are being favoured over other customers. From what I remember, there was little if any discount given based on the upgrade from 5gh > 25gh> 50gh. The price per GH were very similar and now it turns out that the customers who ordered bigger machines are being left behind customers who paid after. Jody has stated that all orders are being filled in the order of being paid, which is just not true and it is COMPLETELY unfair.

    These customers should be given the option of getting 5GH machines to make up the same GH they ordered.

    Is it these customers' fault that the company decided to produce more SKU's than they could handle? They should have only annouced the 5GH and perfected it, then moved on.

    Amateur Team and nobody can say otherwise... They may be working hard , but not clever. Running a company is not as easy as it looks and I hope they have learnt their lessons and don't make customers pay for their mistakes...
    scipol, samwell_1 and Quemeros like this.
    Updated 06-07-2013 at 12:33 PM by stevenmartin99
  2. CrunchyFerrett's Avatar
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    tl;dr
    Why hasn't my single shipped yet?
  3. T-Zilla the Uba Killa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevenmartin99
    Amateur Team and nobody can say otherwise...
    They're the best in the business. Can you say otherwise?
    WhitePhantom likes this.
  4. j458165's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevenmartin99
    Some customers are being favoured over other customers. From what I remember, there was little if any discount given based on the upgrade from 5gh > 25gh> 50gh. The price per GH were very similar and now it turns out that the customers who ordered bigger machines are being left behind customers who paid after.
    5GH/s miners actually cost 10% more per GH/s than the other devices.
  5. stevenmartin99's Avatar
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    5GH/s miners actually cost 10% more per GH/s than the other devices.
    They do now.... they didn't when people preordered!
    Updated 06-07-2013 at 01:53 PM by stevenmartin99
  6. tempestb's Avatar
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    If I go to McDonalds and order a burger, and the next guy orders chicken, I don't expect him to wait for me to get my food before he can have his, if his is done. Neither does McDonalds since they ask you to pull forward to let the other people through because your meal will take longer. That's life, that's how it is. Buck up.
  7. Bargraphics's Avatar
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    I sure wished I'd have order more chicken sammys
  8. jjiimm_64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tempestb
    If I go to McDonalds and order a burger, and the next guy orders chicken, I don't expect him to wait for me to get my food before he can have his, if his is done. Neither does McDonalds since they ask you to pull forward to let the other people through because your meal will take longer. That's life, that's how it is. Buck up.
    Your not losing money because the chicken is given to the other guy first..... anyone that ordered before aug that has not received their asic is getting SCREWED.
  9. simmersiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tempestb
    If I go to McDonalds and order a burger, and the next guy orders chicken, I don't expect him to wait for me to get my food before he can have his, if his is done. Neither does McDonalds since they ask you to pull forward to let the other people through because your meal will take longer. That's life, that's how it is. Buck up.
    Except for when it isn't. A minute or two of your time in McDonalds is not a material difference; because of the very nature of the difficulty increasing in Bitcoin mining, this arguably is.
  10. tom999's Avatar
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    wait or push red buttom away.
  11. Yogafan's Avatar
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    wait, BFL sells kitchen sinks too !?
  12. Solreaper's Avatar
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    Please show me an example of a successful company that would slow down production on one line to "catch up" production on another when the parts for the first line are readily available.
  13. Anthony Barranco's Avatar
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    Biggest excuse and sappiest thing I've ever read for a business.

    Many comments already made highlight why this is beyond acceptable. I really liked the McDonalds line comparison too which was made to defend BFL, but actually is inversed. That applies to almost every business... ever. Do you ever see a restaurant skip out on a table because "it would take too long to cook their food" as opposed to someone else?

    "so after seeing the almost incessant carrying on about Jalapenos being shipped before Little Singles/Singles/Minirigs"
    This goes SO beyond just jalapenos shipping before Singles and Minirigs. This goes back to FGPA and the amount of delays BFL had back then. They were terrible then, promised to shape up, had people clawing at their hands going "it will be better with ASIC, they'll be on time this time around!" Then, 5 months go by without a word other than "soon its coming soon, we got this". No information, left in the dark. Everyone. Jalapenos, Singles, Minirigs alike. Then, they miss their target shipment. Not just in October, but in November - December - January - Feb. With little explanation as to why. "Oh we had problems with X". So what steps did you take to fix it? "Oh, it was these people in China, they're holding us up in fab. Oh, these chips have problems. Oh, this power issue."

    I recall "Its ok, we'll ship in April. Excepted April, late April, due May". Its now June. Only this past week has Jalapenos gone out in a significant number. And some Jalapeno customers are GETTING BENEFIT UPGRADES.

    If you honestly have the audacity to defend a company that has screwed your pooch this many times over, seriously, get a grip. Excuses all down the line with deceiving information and complete blackouts. "Get your important announces off of a convoluted forum people for thousand dollar products! Forget emails. We don't do bulk emails." I've seen startup companies made up of 2-4 college kids with products that are $25~ have more communication and respect for their customers. Gaming companies and startups get axed every other month because of tiny screw ups and because they don't meet deadlines. Customers get up in arms about it and they win. A lot.
    To get any news about BFL on a consistent basis, I have to subscribe to an UNNOFFICIAL TWITTER FEED. That is disgusting!

    Stop trying to defend them with silly nonsense about keeping up appearances and "keeping good faith by releasing a product sooner rather than later." Thats the TIP OF THE ICEBERG.
    BFL screws us over time and time again and we just let it slide with these excuses. I'm one of them too. I can't believe I let myself sit this long and do nothing. I used to defend BFL too. I never thought it would end up being this bad.

    We're approaching the year of when people purchased originally. People were told this would be done no later than half a year after purchased. Then months went by without any information, or at least very little of it. Excuses

    EDIT:
    Another great thing BFL did was say "we hired people to work through the weekend to get these Jalapenos ready and shipped! ITS GOING TO BE A LONG WEEKEND GUYS!!! )
    That never happened either. In fact, it was approximately 2 weeks after that before good ol' Josh ever responded with any significant update. And you think thats okay.
    Updated 06-07-2013 at 03:20 PM by Anthony Barranco
  14. simmersiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solreaper
    Please show me an example of a successful company that would slow down production on one line to "catch up" production on another when the parts for the first line are readily available.
    Most products aren't sensitive to relative place in line. This one is. In fact, that was what people were bargaining for at the time of purchase, IMO. There is plenty of evidence on the boards from the last year to suggest that.
  15. helmax's Avatar
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    you are are saying this because other companies already are moving
    and are ask refunds to BFL
  16. Dale Cole's Avatar
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    All I want is my damn Mini Single...

    It looks like I should have bought 6 jalapenos instead.

    BFL, can ya ship me 6 Jalapenos cause at this point you're WELL PAST my order #.
  17. Anthony Barranco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yogafan
    wait, BFL sells kitchen sinks too !?
    Shipment expected October 2013.
    By that I mean August 2014.
  18. Jinx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solreaper
    Please show me an example of a successful company that would slow down production on one line to "catch up" production on another when the parts for the first line are readily available.
    Just let BFL make a proposal to revert ordered singles and rigs to the same hashrate in jalapenos. And let everybody decide what to do - wait for originally ordered devices or take a lot of small boxes. This will be honest.
  19. king44444's Avatar
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    Why not ship a 5GH unit to every customer in the order they paid. Then, when the Singles and miniRigs are made, ask for them back before shipping the larger units. Its not a perfect solution, but it makes people feel less cheated. Just an idea.
  20. simmersiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by king44444
    Why not ship a 5GH unit to every customer in the order they paid. Then, when the Singles and miniRigs are made, ask for them back before shipping the larger units. Its not a perfect solution, but it makes people feel less cheated. Just an idea.
    Not a bad idea there.
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