Spirent’s presentation at Networking Field Day 4 covered three main products: Spirent Studio Security, Spirent iTest Lab Optimizer and Spirent Axon. In this post, I’ll take a look at iTest Lab Optimizer – Spirent’s new product to manage lab resources, automate lab provisioning and manage schedules to avoid conflicts.
iTest Lab Optimizer
Lab Optimizer is part of the Spirent iTest line of products which are in general aimed at increasing the level of automation in testing. There are tools that help build and execute test cases, tweak them if needed, consistently execute that test as part of a QA process, (for example) then report the results automatically. That kind of testing needs to run on some kind of lab-based test bed, and that’s where iTest Lab Optimizer comes in.
In my experience, labs tend to be established over a long period of time, and are often where old equipment goes to die. Racks upon racks of equipment can build up, cabling can be a total mess (and nobody knows what connects to what), and each time you want to run a test in the lab you end up ripping out all the network connections on the equipment you need to use, and re-cabling the lab to your own needs. Then half way through your testing, somebody else comes in and rips your lab apart in order to build their own, different, test bed. Meanwhile remote-based engineers are getting steamed up because every time they try to access the lab, it looks different, and they can’t get anything done because they can’t re-cable anything. And if you’re lucky enough to have a lab manager, they probably keep you locked out of the lab anyway, and any changes are slow to happen because they all go through a single point, and that point only works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, so forget any changes on the weekend or overnight.
I’m guessing this is probably sounding pretty familiar to most of you. It certainly rings a painful bell with me.
iTest Lab Optimizer seeks to solve all those problems, which is no mean feat.
Lab Optimizer gives you one place to list all your equipment, so once set up, there’s no question about what you have. More than that though, by having visibility of all the devices available it may now be possible to build more than one test bed at a time, so long as they don’t have overlapping requirements.
Software can’t cure a mess of cables. However, by using layer 1 switches (such as those from MRV) each port can be connected once to the MRV, then end to end connections logically mapped “on demand”. In other words, you can re-cable your lab topology without moving a single cable. Spirent don’t make the switches, but iTest Lab Optimizer can control them and make the lab look the way you need it, without ever stepping into the lab itself.
Bored of sending emails round to see if the lab is free? Another facet of Lab Optimizer is the scheduling tool that, just like an Outlook® calendar, allows easy booking of the lab resources and ensures that there’s no contention for a given device. I cannot stress how useful this kind of thing can be, even as a standalone tool, but integrated into the bigger lab management package, this could be incredible – imagine if, in the 15 minutes prior to your lab booking, the scheduling software can kick off the VM images you need for testing, configure the lab, put standard default configurations on the devices you chose, and have everything up and running when your scheduled session begins?
More than that, if the system is smart enough to know what test bed configuration you need, it is possible to allow simultaneous bookings for test beds that can co-exist using the available hardware, thus potentially doubling (or more) the potential time available in the lab.
When the person that pays for lab equipment asks whether or not they’re seeing a return on their investment, wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to pull up a report showing them exactly how much use the lab is getting, and prove its value? Having integrated scheduling means that this kind of report is easily available. I suspect – although I’m not clear if it’s available now – it would even be possible to figure out which devices don’t get used, and which are most heavily utilized, which may help identify where new lab investment should be targeted in order to improve lab utilization.
Once you define and store a test bed configuration, performing repeat tests in the future is easy, because you simply call up the stored topology and it can be rebuilt on demand. This ties in with the iTest philosophy of being able to replicate and automate tests at any time, both for the test case and – in this instance – the test bed.
EasY Topology Creation
If you’ve ever used GNS3, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a drag and drop topology to build your network. iTest Lab Optimizer uses the same concept, and allows you to create a test topology using a graphical interface. The concept is that anything connected to a layer 1 switch can be connected to any other device connected to the same switch, so all the user need worry about is what logical topology they need to build, and Lab Optimizer (with the MRV switch) will make it happen. Underlying all of this, Lab Optimizer has to have been told what MRV port maps to what device port, but once that has been set up, the graphical logical abstraction is a really easy way to build a lab.
So to use the lab, you would:
- Create a topology using the graphical interface and save it
- Reserve the topology (i.e. the resources needed), either for a future (scheduled) time or for immediate use.
- The topology is built (e.g. the MRV switch is automatically configured and any device configurations are loaded) at the chosen time.
- Start testing!
That’s pretty straightforward, right?
Abstract The Abstraction
In this first release of Lab Optimizer, the topology is built specific to the hardware in the lab (i.e. you are saying I want this router and that router). In the next release, Spirent is aiming to deploy another level of abstraction beyond that, and allow you to say “I need two Cisco routers”, and the software could find resources for you across multiple labs and locations and make them seem connected. This really takes the idea that the tester doesn’t need to know about the underlying equipment to another level. It remains to be seen how well that will work – it was not demonstrated to us at NFD4 – and it’s not clear what kind of constraints you might be able to place on the resource needs (e.g. if you need to have devices within a certain distance of one another for latency purposes), or specific hardware or software needs. Conceptually though, this could significantly increase the efficiency of lab hardware utilization to be able to pool equipment worldwide as part of the same test bed.
Yes it does. This sounds a little like GaleForce Lab Manager, for which Spirent used to be a reseller. The GaleForce web page says that “Lab Manager for new system sales has reached End of Life (EOL) status” –
which I’m taking to mean that the product is dead (updated 11/7/2012:) but I’m told in the comments below that the functions have been integrated into GaleForce, which I would guess means that Spirent are probably not going to resell GaleForce any more? That’s rather handy, then, and Spirent can step right into those shoes, and maybe even pump them up a bit.
As with any of the NFD4 presentations, I cannot explicitly recommend the product. I have only watched a demonstration, and honestly without hands on it’s hard to know whether the product truly works the way it’s pitched. Double that level of concern because this is a 1.0 release, so there’s a good chance there are areas that need more attention. Spirent promised an aggressive release schedule for updates though, so hopefully any problems will be resolved quickly.
In concept though, this product sounds AWESOME, and I would love to have it available to use just to see if it’s as good as it seems. On its own, the ability to dynamically remap connections 24/7 without physical access is probably worth its weight in gold. Add the ability to deploy configurations to the devices as they are brought into the topology, and there’s another big time saver.
Of course, to accomplish this, you’ll be needing that layer 1 switch, so there’s a cost on top of the software, but I think there’s a business case that can be made. Spirent iTest Lab Optimizer gets two thumbs way up from me, though the thumbs are waving around in the hope that it’s all it seems to be!
Spirent Presentation / Demo
Watch the Spirent presentation and demonstration of iTest Lab Optimizer here, and see what you think:
Get Some Other Points of View
Here are some blog posts from other NFD4 delegates so you can get their take on Spirent:
- Spirent Communications Looks Toward The Enterprise (@networkstatic)
- Spirent – Bringing The Tests To You (@networkingnerd)
- Tester Not Included (@networksherpa)
I’ll update this list as I become aware of other posts, and these are good blogs to subscribe to even if security testing isn’t your primary interest!
Spirent was a presenter at Networking Field Day 4, and while I received no compensation for my attendance at this event, my travel, accommodation and meals were provided. I was explicitly not required or obligated to blog, tweet, or otherwise write about or endorse the sponsors, but if I choose to do so I am free to give my honest opinions about the vendors and their products, whether positive or negative.
Please see my Disclosures page for more information.