Velocity implies speed… and direction : Page 2 of 3

February 22, 2016 // By David Hill, VP EMEA, Spirent
Laboratory testing is coming out of the woodwork and into the limelight, driven by growing realisation that today’s customer is king – and extremely flighty by kingly standards. It is nice to be valued, but it also increases pressure on processes that never were that simple but are rapidly growing more complex and suffering ever-greater time constraints. Can anything be done to integrate and automate test lab management and execution asks David Hill VP EMEA Spirent
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.

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