We have a network lab?
Spirent presented their new lab-management software, called iTest Lab Optimizer, at network field day 4 recently. Their product name isn’t catchy, but it is very descriptive and addresses a market need. The simple fact is that most lab networks don’t get optimised to their full potential for some of the following reasons:
- Nobody knows what is in the lab (or that one exists) – Inventory Management
- The availability of the lab devices is unknown – Availability and scheduling
- The patching status of the devices is uncertain – Fixed undocumented patching.
- Setting up your device-under-test is hard and takes time, so you try to prevent other users from mangling your config. – DUT config management
How do lab management tools work?
As another NFD4 delegate Paul Stewart from PacketU described it, “it’s like GNS3 with real routers”. Let’s take a look at how you would use this lab-management software. When you deploy a new device-under-test (DUT) to your lab, you patch the desired number of ports to a physical layer switch such as the MRV MCC-144HS or the OnPath 3903. If you want to learn more, check out my post ‘what is a physical layer switch‘.
The lab management system also comes with a calendar style booking mechanism. You use the eclipse-based client application to drag-and-drop a software representation of your DUTs onto a new topology and add the required links between them. It is the job of the scheduler to ensure your required devices are reserved for you, and then set-up the physical topology.
The main benefit of the lab management system is to get maximum juice out of your lab investment. If you can switch between different topologies very quickly, then you can share equipment between multiple lab-customers much more efficiently. If you have already invested in an IXIA or Spirent load generator, then using a lab-management system really does make a lot of sense.
However, there’s still the thorny issue of configuration management on test devices. This is where I’ve have the most headaches as a lab manager. Lab-devices take a lot of beating and password or config recovery are common tasks. The lab-management tools are capable of attaching start-up and tear-down scripts (think Expect or equivalent) to set-up your DUTs with the required config. This is helpful, but remember that you still have to write a login-over-console expect-style config replacement script for every DUT in your lab!
Competitors and the the holy grail
Spirent is the biggest player in the network test market, but iTest Lab Optimizer is a new entrant to the lab management niche. It is competing with the long-established GaleForce product by Gale technologies, and GaleForce is a re-vamp of it’s LabManager product which was inherited from it’s Edentree acquisition. From the feature’s I have seen iTest Lab Optimizer and Galeforce are almost identical.
So why would I buy iTest Lab Optimizer? I’ll be very careful here, I haven’t tested iTest Lab Optimizer so I cannot recommend it. Although, I do see a gap in the market for a system which bridges a Test Automation engine (Spirent iTest Enterprise or IXIA TestConductor) with a DUT scheduling and topology creation engine (iTest Lab Optimiser or GaleForce). Getting both from a single vendor would allow you to tightly integrate the automated test with the desired physical topology.
To be fair, QualiSystems TestShell framework already provides an integrated solution that covers test automation and lab resource management. TestShell also says it’s test-execution engine is integrated with IXIA and Spirent load-generators, but I haven’t dug deep on this.
If iTest lab optimiser can tightly integrate the load-tester-API, test-automation and lab-management functions into it’s iTest suite then it has a winner. Spirent will have to compete with established competitors in this space though, so it should be interesting to watch how it all unfolds.
Other views from NFD4
Read Brent Salisbury’s opinion on Spirent: spirent-communications-looks-toward-the-enterprise