The Cloud Makes Some Software Trials Easy!

July 7, 2009

I was reading this post by Ken Hess – My Midsummer Night’s Dream of A Virtual Lab. In the past, I’ve written about how virtual lab management software can help if you’re considering a virtual lab setup for your customer’s software trials and evaluations. If you’re considering a virtual lab for software trials, check out VMLogix LabManager or LabManager-Cloud Edition.

Here are some relevant points that the author makes:

To give fair assessments of vendor products, I need complete and fully functional copies of those products. Vendors who do supply me with their products never supply the required hardware to go along with them. Often the hardware requirements are very high thus making my use of the product almost impossible. A virtual lab is the only logical answer.

Instead of confusion and frustration, they’ll [customers, VARs, technical writers] experience your software the way you want them to: The correct hardware, the correct installation, the correct first impression.

Don’t assume success, guarantee it by providing those prospective customers with something that will surely close the deal for you: A virtual lab.

A virtual lab is my dream and my hope is that vendors will decide that it’s a good idea and implement it.

I completely agree – there is tremendous value in getting your customer/prospect up and running with your trial software with minimum obstacles and hoops to cross through. After all you want them to get to your product as quickly as possible and spend the time tinkering with the software (vs. spending cycles in waiting for required hardware etc.).

That’s where cloud computing makes a significant difference! Take our newly launched LabManager-Cloud Edition beta – you can get yourself setup with a trial version easily - no need of waiting/procuring hardware, installing software etc. etc. Just spend your time on — well, evaluating and trying out the trial software! (you’ll need an Amazon Web Services account, last I checked it did not take more than a couple of minutes to sign up for one!).

You could also use LabManager-Cloud Edition to power your virtual lab for software trials in the cloud!

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Leveraging Virtual Labs for Software Sales and Demonstrations

June 5, 2009
A Subset of VMLogix LabManager use cases for the software demo virtual lab scenario

A Subset of VMLogix LabManager use cases for the software demo virtual lab scenario

Also see the previous post for the use cases for lab administrators.

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Contrasting the Management of Virtualized Test Lab and Production Environments

March 9, 2009

1. The Context

Virtualization in Pre-Production Labs: Virtualization usually takes its first steps in an organization in the pre-production (software lab) environment. The use of virtualization in dev/test labs continues to be a very popular use case today. I would think that it would still figure in the top three use cases for virtualization, much like how this earlier survey in 2007 indicated. As IT administrators get familiar with the use of virtualization, the technology moves towards being used in the data center environment as well.

Virtualization in Production Data Centers: The big 4 infrastructure management vendors – BMC, IBM, CA and HP have recognized the impact of virtualization in the data center and have been taking initiatives towards managing a hybrid of virtual and physical infrastructure. Alessandro recently suggested that VMware would join the list and become an infrastructure management company as well. Virtualization adoption in the data center is an important development and most IT practitioners believe this to be a fundamental shift in the data center operational dynamics (think of an agile and dynamic data center) that is here to stay.

Hypervisor Commoditization: The adoption of virtualization in the above two pre-production and production arenas has been accelerated by recent industry announcements. With the base hypervisor technology moving towards commoditization – the value value add comes from the accompanying management applications.

2. Contrasting the Management Environments in Pre-Production (Lab) and Production (Data Center) Environments

Given the above widely accepted view that virtualization has significant impact on IT infrastructure operations in the pre-production (lab) and production environments – how do the accompanying management applications in each arena compare? The figure below contrasts the management environments in the two cases.

Comparing Lab Management and Production Management

Comparing Lab Management and Production Management

As the table indicates (see the management goals specifically), there is a fundamental difference between the two environments and therefore there is a need for separate management technologies with different management functionality in the lab and production environments.

3. Specific Benefits of Virtual Lab Automation and Management Applications in Pre-Production (Lab) Scenarios

Pre-production (lab) scenarios bring with it their own set of management challenges which are not addressed by production management applications. Here is a snapshot of the management challenges in the lab for which virtual lab management solutions provide a good solution (and where production management apps fall short):

Lab Management Dimension Why it is needed Product Demonstrations
Web based self service Allow multiple users and teams to share and leverage a common set of shared infrastructure on demand Enabling web based self service
User management Support a large internal constituency of users and teams that need access to lab infrastructure How User Management Helps in Test Lab Operations
Multi-machine management Ability to create, deploy, share and delete multi-machine configurations as a single unit Automating the Creation of a Multi-Machine Test Environment
Rapid changes to VMs and Configurations Easily allow users to create and edit multi machine configurations and VMs Automating the Creation of a Multi-Machine Test Environment
Sharing and Collaboration Allow the many users to share lab artefacts and leverage work done by others (without the need to re-do the effort) How User Management Helps in Test Lab Operations
Network zoning Ability to isolate running configurations so they do not conflict with the same config instance deployed multiple times The Benefit of Network (IP) Zoning in Executing Test Environments
Storage optimizations Optimize the storage occupied by VMs, especially when hundreds of VMs are created by the large internal lab user community The Benefit of Linked Clones in a Dev/Test Environment
Prevent resource hogging Setup policies and quotas for individual users so their usage of the lab remains bounded. Also setup job lease times to prevent a single user’s job occupying all the server capacity for prolonged durations.

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Demo: How User Management Helps In Test Lab Operations

February 3, 2009

One of the benefits of using a virtual lab management tool over a bare hypervisor (e.g., VMware ESX, Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V) is the powerful user management functionality that is offered by virtual lab automation solutions. You can read a previous post where I discuss the benefits of a virtual lab management solution over a basic hypervisor.

How do the user management capabilities in virtual lab solutions help? I can see the following benefits:

  • Easily create user accounts and potentially add users to teams (e.g., all your testers would have individual accounts and be part of one or more teams; your developers would have separate accounts and be part of a different team etc.)
  • Plug in your user authentication model (e.g., AD) easily to interface into the virtual lab solution
  • Set the permissions on every user account – to control what lab resources the user has access to
  • Set quotas on every user account – so individual users remain within bounded limits in terms of lab resource utilization
  • Allow users to share lab resources (like configurations from a library, a software script etc.) with other lab users and teams (with varying permissions – read only, edit etc.)

I’ve recorded a brief movie that highlights some aspects of user management in a virtual lab solution. As always, would love to hear any comments and feedback from you.

- Srihari Palangala

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The Benefit of Network (IP) Zoning in Executing Test Environments

January 28, 2009

One of the benefits of a virtual lab automation and management solution is the ability to execute a configuration (a multi-machine setup) multiple times in parallel, without making any changes to the base configuration. Let me explain through a couple of example scenarios:

  1. Do you want your test engineer to execute a test case – identify a bug – hand it over to developer and then continue with the testing? The developer can then execute a second instance of the test environment (the first being executed by the test engineer) – in parallel without disrupting the work of the test engineer.
  2. Do you want your test engineers to spawn test environment instances off a common base configuration – with each having their own instance, executing in parallel and each executing their own set of test cases?

The list will go on – where there is a fundamental need to execute a configuration several times in parallel without any IP or MAC address conflicts.

Virtual Lab Automation solutions like VMLogix LabManager offer the capability known as network (or IP) zoning. Take a look at the video below and see how easy it is to go about this. I run 2 instances of a multi-machine configuration in parallel — deploying both simultaneously without running into conflicts between the 2 deployed environments.

Related Post: Test environment network configurations made easy with virtual lab automation

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Virtual Lab Automation as a Strategic Purchase in your Software Labs

December 18, 2008

In my previous post, we talked about tools in software engineering being either strategic purchases OR cost controllers (I’m ignoring the case of the folks who are in status quo and don’t want to do anything to improve their software engineering processes). This post will talk about how you can make the case for virtual lab automation (VLA) to be a strategic purchase in your software lab.

Rationalization for VLA as a Strategic Purchase in Your Software Engineering Environment

VLA is a strategic tool for consideration in your environment if:

  1. There is a pressing need in your industry to bring software products/systems to market and users faster. OR
  2. There is a pressing need in your industry to roll out high quality software everytime, i.e., there is a low tolerance for bugs reported in the field.

If you are faced with either of these challenges in your software development process and are looking for strategic purchase options, then read on.

Justifying VLA as a Strategic Purchase For Your Software Engineering Process

So, what do VLA tools offer that can help you address strategic concerns around your software engineering process?

Strategic Concern #1 — Pressing need to bring software to market faster

What VLA Offers to address Concern #1

Strategic Concern #2 — Low tolerance for bugs reported in the field and a Pressing need for high quality software to be shipped

What VLA Offers to address Concern #2

  • Leverage the ability to create virtual test environments rapidly and easily — to dramatically improve the number of test cases that you can execute. Don’t waste time creating and re-creating test environment infrastructure
  • Leverage VLA tool integrations with test tools like HP Quality Center and IBM Rational Quality Manager etc. These tools rely on VLA for the creation and management of virtual environments in which the test cases are executed
  • Bring the field environments in! That is, don’t wait to test on field like environments. Use VLA to replicate field like conditions (including the networking setup etc.) to test your software. That way there are fewer surprises in terms of bugs reported from the field

In my next post, we’ll talk about how VLA can be a significant cost controller as well.

Related Reading:

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When Creating Test Environments Can Get Out of Hand

December 3, 2008

Server virtualization is an accepted and mainstream technology used by increasing number of software testers today. The technology helps testers rapidly create virtual machine test environments. Testers who are new to virtualization rely on basic hypervisor technologies from VMware (e.g., VMware Server), Microsoft (e.g., Virtual PC) etc. to create these virtual machine test environments. One of the downsides of using a bare hypervisor is the problem of introducing Virtual Machine (VM) sprawl. A detailed post on the downsides of relying only on a basic hypervisor are discussed here.

The Problem of VM Sprawl: Virtualization technology makes it extremely easy for end users to create and deploy VMs. This can quickly get out of hand – resulting in an increasing number of VMs and difficulty in tracking and managing the VMs. This problem is referred to as VM sprawl. Most often, VM sprawl issues have a profound impact when VMs are used in production (and this is discussed often). However, it is an equally important problem to be aware of when you are actively using virtual machines in your dev/test environments.

When is your Dev/Test Organization at Risk with This VM Sprawl Problem: Here are typical scenarios that are would quickly lead to a VM sprawl problem in your organization.

  • Your organization or group lacks clear policies to control the creation and deployment of VMs in your environment
  • When VMs are abundantly used by your dev/test teams (e.g., it is the de-facto choice when users need new machines. And everyone operates with their own instance of VMware Server/MS Virtual PC etc.)
  • The risk of being affected with the VM sprawl problem are higher if your organization is running distributed teams (offshore/distributed company locations)

Why is the VM sprawl problem relevant to the Dev/Test Organization: So, if you do think that your organization is at risk, what are the specific problems that you are likely to run into if you let things continue ‘as-is’ and without addressing the VM sprawl problem?

  • Resource hogging: It is likely that some of your dev/test staff would let their VMs run continuously on server resources – sometimes without keeping a track of when it is being actually used or left idle. This will lead to server resources being blocked and being unavailable for others to use.
  • Increase in operational costs: Since every user creates and runs their own VMs, the cost of storage, server resources required etc. will go up linearly.
  • Difficult to track license usage: It will be practically impossible for IT administrators to keep track of specific software/OS licenses being used in each VM
  • Compliance and audit: This is less of a problem in dev/test, but a problem regardless. If your administrator ever needs to respond to a compliance audit, it will be a nightmare tracking and reporting the inventory of all machines being run
  • Impossible to track VM creations: It will be quickly impossible to manually (via Microsoft Excel, Word etc.) track VM creations by individuals as well as the resource utilization by each user

If VM sprawl is a problem that you are seeing in your dev/test environments or is likely to be a problem that you will run into shortly, you should consider looking at lab management solutions like VMLogix LabManager. These solutions do a good job of herding the VMs created in a lab (dev/test) environment and provide powerful tools to manage these configurations.

My next post will talk about how VMLogix LabManager can help control your VM sprawl in the dev/test environments. Stay tuned.

- Srihari Palangala

Other useful reading:

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