As networks undergo a major architectural shift, we must transform our Telecom Innovation Pipelines to keep pace. Learn how rethinking your approach to lab automation can reduce testing lifecycles from months to minutes, improving efficiency and accelerating innovation.
Future-proofing begins now
In this blog, I examine the steps organizations need to take when rethinking their testing strategy and their approach to lab optimization, to reduce their testing lifecycle from months to minutes. This process begins with an organization clearly understanding where they are in their test and measurement (T&M) footprint, and where they need to go from there.
The traditional test lab
Currently, the majority of labs are configured in static operational silos established in physical hardware-based infrastructures, with highly manual procedures for setups and teardowns. Development and QA teams need lab infrastructure to support the development and testing of applications running on the systems in these labs. Meanwhile, service providers need a reliable solution to maintain visibility of a range of vendors’ issues in their network. The challenge with these silos and manual lab operations is that it can take hours or days to support one request. In an agile environment, where test “sprints” must improve to perform in minutes and seconds, this approach begins to break down.
These types of environments also introduce bottlenecks when the quality of a pending release is poor and requires a project to go back to development. The people building the environment manually are skilled in network engineering and the people automating are skilled in software engineering. Communication and collaboration break down between these groups as they throw unvetted assessment artifacts over the fence, then point fingers at whose problem it is. This adds time-consuming iterations to resolve and isolate issues found in test. Other concerning characteristics of this model include:
Overprovisioned infrastructure with systems under test (SUTs) and test tools leads to resource conflicts that hinder productivity and speed to market
Stranded resources with low utilization, including devices and applications, result in inefficient workflows
Systems always powered on, versus a managed power operation, produce significant and needless expense
High-cost skilled networking labor repeating setup and tear down tasks, which diverts them from their core responsibilities of developing artifacts for emerging testing needs
Collaboration between silos of developers and quality assurance, as well as, service providers and vendors, is non-existent
As everyone operates in silos, development and operations teams don’t have access to realistic test environments and cannot test to ensure production-ready performance. Service providers and vendors are at cross purposes. Given that low-quality application releases can damage the brand – with the scale and speed of testing required in an agile world to support the emerging challenges of digital disruption – this model cannot scale in the long run.
The objective is to migrate standard physical lab elements, or labs, into an environment that operates like a virtual one: to cloudify the lab.
Phase 1 – Lab consolidation
Implementing this phase involves addressing the physical networks that make up the majority of infrastructure for traditional test labs. The objective is to migrate standard physical lab elements, or labs, into an environment that operates like a virtual one: to cloudify the lab. This virtual transformation of the physical infrastructure, through pooling of lab resources and automation to deliver these resources as automated services, is similar to how IT operations have managed similar requirements. Traditionally responsible for connecting servers and networks, IT groups embraced virtualization technologies to consolidate and optimize use of compute, storage and networking technologies for the enterprise today.
This consolidation process requires a cloud platform such as Lab as a Service (LaaS) that provides unified access, resource management, software-defined connectivity, workflow automation and data analytic capabilities. These integrated platform services, along with easy-to-use natural workflows native to LaaS, enable higher scale and performance throughput of lab functions on an enterprise scale. Through improved management and visibility, business leaders and managers also begin to realize well-known benefits from employing the lean manufacturing methodology. Those benefits include:
Creating geographically distributed labs to use resources through efficient scheduling, workflow integrations and eventually better Capex utilization
Eliminating redundancy in all lab processes through improved data management and automation
Building quality into the solution by integrating labs with development and operations (DevOps)
Creating knowledge which is easily distributed through sharing of reproducible environments and enabling automation of multiple test domains that are currently “manual”
Delivering accelerated productivity through speed of process with integrated dev-QA workflows
Optimizing the entire test lab environment and processes through automated services
Maintaining visibility for service providers of any issues within their networks with a virtualized multi-vendor environment
Phase 2 – Lab and test automation incorporating DevOps and Agile principles
The overall evolutionary roadmap of change involves three elements: people, process and technology. The first phase mainly focused on the last two of these elements. After consolidation, now optimization of the test lab must be addressed incorporating all three. Once the physical infrastructure is centralized and virtualized for greater efficiencies, the next tier of advancement involves lab and test automation leveraging DevOps and agile principles to deliver comprehensive continuous testing (CT) and to support continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD).
In contrast with the monolithic waterfall development methodology of the traditional lab approach—which often represents months-long development and delivery cycles, or longer—the agile approach embraces continuous short cycles of process, traditionally with two-week “sprints.” Leveraging the guiding principles of lean manufacturing and agile methodology used in Phase I and utilizing DevOps by tool chaining development tools and on-demand lab services eliminates well-known process friction and waste. Too often these process impairments have been accepted as normal between development-QA and lab groups. Examples of these inefficiencies include: finding equipment, setting up environments, configuring environments for development or test, troubleshooting, with dozens more in most labs. Examples of integrating the Telecom Innovation Pipeline with LaaS are:
Test management system – Mapping LaaS resources with test requirements and/or linking bugs and logs with LaaS configurations of systems or devices under test (SUTs or DUTs)
Test executive and build systems – Integrating build environments with real-world network test environments, including automatically finding equipment, connecting it, configuring it, running tests on it and tearing it down when finished
Inventory systems – Map your lab or data center (DC) inventory system to LaaS resource management to monitor and maximize usage while minimizing conflicts
Cloud or network orchestrators – Automatically connect NFV and SDN systems seamlessly with any legacy physical systems without the complex user mapping of L1 and L2 connections
Many more examples exist, but as you can see by abstracting lab infrastructure as a service (IaaS) with APIs, test operations are streamlined at all stages of the Telecom Innovation Pipeline. As a result, continuous test coverage increases. This in turn creates and captures more valuable data for future testing and predictive analytics. These benefits all support the development team’s need for agility and continuous integration, along with operations’ need for stability and reliable delivery.
Phase 3 – Democratized and liberated As-a-Service testing
This is a state that many organizations aspire to attain, and which few have yet achieved. It is one, however, which must be realized sooner than later to meet the challenges of 2025. Since the promise of NFV and 5G infrastructure is to virtualize the networks created in these emerging environments, everything will be ubiquitous to the cloud. Organizations won’t see traditional IT infrastructure anymore, nor should development and QA see lab infrastructure. With networking and applications integrated into the cloud or multiple connected clouds, and delivered as on-demand automated services, next generation LaaS infrastructure empowers the creation of a mobile enterprise workforce, performing testing continuously throughout a product or service delivery pipeline.
By reaching this stage you’ve achieved a maturity cycle where a culture has embraced a new normal, where labs operate as on-demand services. This solution enables rich and reliable automated services and functions as a critical enterprise-wide business system. Democratizing means accessible to everyone. So why not offer this to customers, vendors or partners? This capability extends the collaboration and resources of operations to improve innovation or create new revenue streams by offering the lab as a service for consumption of tools, tests, devices, and more. For example, with this advanced phase of operational maturity, and by building new user portals on top of your LaaS operation, you can enable a new self-service technical assistance center (TAC). This would allow customers to help you reproduce their environments in your environments, or demonstrate new release capabilities and easily compare them against prior versions, or enable test services to perform customer tests on their configurations.
Realizing the new framework
This modernization of the lab provides the next big step in this transformation of the lab. In doing so, it shifts the business model of labs from a cost center to a new revenue stream. At times, organizations must reassess their approach to testing and ask themselves if they are able to achieve their goals by themselves, or if they need a trusted, vendor-agnostic third-party partner. This is where Spirent Managed Solutions have offered a differentiated way forward. The benefits of this solution approach are transformational:
Global resource “cloud” offering universal access to consume costly Capex-intensive resources
New operating models to enable seamless scale of testing physical and virtual systems
Enablement of new business models by opening LaaS operations to customers, vendors and partners, from cost center to revenue center
A 30,000-foot view of change
Understanding the progression of test lab maturity at a high level helps all members of the organization understand the context and importance of this transformation process. It highlights where you need to aim to justify this transformational leap: democratization of all lab resources, both physical and virtual. I’ve experienced this transformation at every stage, and seen the return on investment (ROI) in the process. As a result, I’ve also seen CEOs and CFOs acknowledge the value and become more deeply involved and invest more into realizing this vision. Eventually the time will come to move from a framework designed in the 20th century to one designed for the 21st century. By taking this leap, you also leap from months to minutes.
Final thoughts on LaaS objectives
This blog examines the advantages of state-of-the-art test automation within the framework of Lab as a Service. For our customers, this quality of cutting-edge testing has been made possible through our next-gen platform of Managed Solutions, which also include Test as a Service (TaaS). Together they address modern problems, the requirements of the 21st century test lab and supporting service-oriented architecture. Delivering a robust return on investment in the process, Spirent’s Managed Solutions apply the latest cloud and virtualization techniques to usher in a new era of highly-efficient automated testing.
Originally published last year, this blog has been updated to reflect the rising importance of Managed Solutions for our customers. This comes as the industry is seeing an expanding number of service providers outsourcing to vendors to mitigate challenges stemming from growing complexity of test and assurance with tighter budgets and less resources to address them with. Offered as customized test and assurance service delivered by a trusted vendor-agnostic third-party partner, Spirent’s Lab as a Service (LaaS) is positioned as a crucial foundation of success for a broad range of service providers and vendors today.
To learn more about Spirent’s Managed Solutions, click here.
To read the eBook Lab as a Service for Next-Generation Labs, click here.