Velocity implies speed… and direction

Velocity implies speed… and direction

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe

In the dynamic, trendy environment of information technology and digital communications so much excitement initially focused on the brilliant inventive minds of the visionaries thinking up all this new stuff. Far less attention was drawn to the developers who had the relatively tedious task of getting it to work – let alone the testers who had to confirm that it really did work. Actually that was nice: you were left to get on with the job.

But success has its drawbacks, and these included raising customer expectations to dizzying heights. Also the communications revolution itself was making sure that, if anything failed to work one hundred per cent, everyone would know about it within minutes. According to Liz Herbert, Forrester Research VP and Principle Analyst: “We believe that this Age of the Customer is such a powerful shift that it is creating change – even in organisations that might not think of themselves as directly linked to the customer”

Testing could never again be an afterthought: it had to be integrated into the development process itself as part of a dynamic, on-going DevOps collaboration. This is the point where one would ideally take time to step back and re-think the whole business: time to re-structure and re-equip the test department, its procedures and management processes. But not only is the test department growing in size and complexity, there is also even greater time pressure as part of a larger dynamic and interactive DevOps team.

So many large organisations now have elaborately equipped test facilities and highly skilled teams scattered across the globe, together with a pressing need to make better use of these resources. We have indeed inherited a very wasteful culture: one where a single person taking a couple of hours a day to commute to and from work has to spend many thousands of pounds on a car that will be gathering dust for the remaining twenty two hours.

One solution is catching on: it is equivalent to the virtualization process that has taken datacentres by storm. Today’s high-speed connectivity is making it increasingly practical to consolidate all those separate test skills and equipment into one global test resource, and then subdivide the whole resource as needed into virtual test facilities. So, instead of having assets duplicated across every physical laboratory and lying idle for a lot of the time, these resources can be used far more efficiently by spinning them up when and only when some virtual test procedure across the globe needs them.

In the past this ability might have been seen as a great opportunity to downsize the test engineering facility and sell off redundant equipment but, in today’s pressured ‘Age of the Customer’ business environment, it is seen rather as an opportunity to get better return on investment by squeezing a lot more testing out of existing facilities.

Virtualization of the test department has much to offer, but it is also yet another burden on management: one that demands new ways of thinking, planning and working. This is again the point where it would be nice to step back, take time to re-think the whole operation and come up with a fresh, integrated and efficient way to operate. But again, there is simply not enough time to step back once you have become a key player in a dynamic, on-going DevOps team. Instead, lab management & capital expenditure are getting out of control.

Our research and customer feedback identifies five main issues associated with poorly managed Labs:

  1. Insufficient lab-utilisation metrics;
  2. No unified interfaces for creating and re-creating network topologies;
  3. Limited automation ability;
  4. Inadequate control of user behaviours;
  5. Delayed projects.

So, is there a solution?

Test equipment moving with the times

Pressure on test laboratories is not a brand new phenomenon. Ten years ago there was already a market for more intelligent test equipment that would help to simplify test measurement and reporting and so make it easier to standardize tests across different teams and laboratories.

As test tools grew more sophisticated they could not only standardize tests but also add automation. In the last five years test automation has greatly reduced the manual labour of repeated testing and the risk of human error during boring repetitive tasks. Automation also allows tests to run unattended 24/7 for far more efficient use of resources and time. Major service providers, CSPs and virtual network operators rely on these developments to increase efficiency, ensure consistency and reliability – but the downside is that the more powerful and feature rich the equipment used, the more pressure there will be to ensure Return on Investment.

The test lab manager in such a large organisation might now be responsible for a half dozen satellite labs around the world employing several hundred test engineers using over ten thousand test assets. As the operation grows it becomes harder to ensure security, keep track of who is using what assets and which are currently available for use, and maintain consistent workflows between projects and sites. As a result test bed set-up takes longer and is more error prone, critical projects are delayed and secure projects may be compromised.

So the need now is not just for new improved test tools, but also for lab management solutions to orchestrate the whole operation. This includes resource management to avoid human or equipment bottlenecks as well as allocating resources efficiently by managing the queue for shared equipment. Consistency is ensured by the standardisation and sharing of test protocols assets and the use of approved equipment. Today’s lab management solutions will be cloud-enabled to ensure consistency across multiple sites and to increase resilience against disaster or loss of compute power at any site.

There is no shortage of helpful lab management software available – even free software solutions. For someone already in control of the situation and with a clear management strategy, these tools will help to implement, accelerate and standardise lab management. But if the real problem is driven by increasing scale and change, who has time to re-think and design that clear management strategy? What might work well in a physical environment requires very different management in today’s fluid virtual setting.

Velocity, my own company’s solution to this problem, begins with one major advantage – integration. As test equipment providers we offer a management solution that is fully integrated with test case execution and so, from the very beginning, you get better visibility into equipment use. As a cloud solution it offers access to a central repository of equipment, test cases and topologies to simplify the creation and sharing of assets for regression testing.

But that does not mean we are promoting a plug and play solution to the lab management crisis. There is still that fundamental need to step back and re-think what lab management means in an increasingly virtual environment, and that need is built into our thinking. The solution begins with collaboration from a support team comprising certified networking and test automation professionals with years of training and experience of testing and troubleshooting in a comprehensive range of industries and applications. That team offers itself as a trusted partner to help with the design as well as the implementation of a management solution. The team offers leadership throughout: including design, planning, implementation, adoption, training and project management – as well as solution architects – to deliver a complete test solution.

Of course no two organisations are identical or can be satisfied with off the peg solutions, and that is why the team explores your specific challenges as partners: addressing the role of all stakeholders as well as the tools needed for a comprehensive solution. For a manager under so much stress to deliver, this encouragement to step back and re-think can be disconcerting. As one customer put it: “For the first week or so Spirent was doing 95% of the work, and some of the staff were wondering what we had taken on. A few weeks later we were doing 70% and in a month or two it all looked so straightforward that from then on we only needed a basic support contract for upgrades and reassurance”.

As for time sacrificed to enable this process: that loss is more than made up for in the acceleration resulting from best practices: faster test development, test bed configuration, test execution and results analysis. This is the lasting legacy of an integrated lab management solution geared to meeting pre-defined goals in an optimal, efficient manner.

There is no doubt that test teams themselves are now facing testing times, the question is how best to respond. Do you continue to struggle under increasing pressure and become ever more involved in fire-fighting resulting errors and project delays? Or do you allow time to step back and re-align your test strategies for the future? It is much easier to make the second, bold decision when you know that there are people out there already possessing the necessary skills and experience to help.

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