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Rethinking the Lab – An Evolution: Case Studies in Lab Automation Success

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When considering a lab automation solution, organizations need to see proof points in use cases. Learn how three telecom organizations addressed their challenges with a successful lab automation solution and understand the advantages of a managed solution in next-gen lab automation strategies.

Our customers’ goals are generally similar: to get their products and/or services to market faster, with reliable and superior quality. To help achieve that, the objective for an optimal lab management solution is to deliver state-of-the art automation and orchestration of all physical and virtual testing resources, with streamlined efficiencies to expedite 24/7 testing.

Yet all solution vendors in this space are not the same and have their own unique requirements and capabilities. A critical differentiating factor for identifying a qualified solution vendor lies in in the solution engagement and scoping process. This entails understanding the customer’s pain, having a suitable solution (people, process, and technology), and being able to communicate how that solution addresses their challenges. The solution MUST answer customer’s customized needs and demonstrate that value in a POC (proof of concept).

Table stakes for next-gen lab automation and optimization

To achieve maximum testing efficiencies, comprehensive rethinking of the lab is often required. A next-gen test lab automation and optimization solution must deliver an array of capabilities. With most companies operating multiple labs in geographically dispersed areas, a primary requirement is to enable consolidation and unification of lab environments worldwide.

This is made possible with zero-touch provisioning, connecting all physical, virtual and hybrid infrastructure and test equipment with programmable Layer-1 switches. A web interface should provide a “single pane of glass” where resources located in different global regions are discovered and made accessible to users worldwide and testbeds can be designed and provisioned. This allows resources and to be pooled and managed from anywhere. Utilization tracking of all lab resources should be available, so that resources can be rapidly reconfigured, testbeds can be spun up and down on-demand, and complex validation test suites can be fully automated is a key objective of the next-gen lab.

With this approach, users model, automate and deploy environments within their managed lab infrastructure, automatically provision the resources and automate test environments required for test execution. Achieving this level of enhanced functionality in state-of-the art test lab automation, however, requires seasoned expertise. At times, a partner with advanced lab automation and technology capabilities helps eliminate outmoded internal and external siloed workflows, by consolidating multiple labs into a single shared web-accessible resource which may be delivered in whole, or part, as a service.

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At times, a partner with advanced lab automation and technology capabilities helps eliminate outmoded internal and external siloed workflows, by consolidating multiple labs into a single shared web-accessible resource which may be delivered in whole, or part, as a service.

Solution value validation through case studies

The three Spirent case studies shared in this blog explore how Lab as a Service (LaaS) addressed modern problems and offer proof points of solution value. These proof points are essential for organizations considering implementing their own lab automation solution and offer benchmarks of what to expect for realistic results and benefits with a solution adoption. All of the case studies cited below followed a proof of concept (PoC) phase to demonstrate solution value. Presented in the chronological order of their delivery, the case studies exhibit a range of customer problems and the successes achieved with the right solution approach.

Major Wireless Service Provider – Customer Profile

This wireless service provider’s test lab needed a multi-vendor environment, with separate user rooms and simultaneous users, with assurance of privacy and centralized scheduling. At least seven vendor teams, as well as the customer’s 50+ manual testers, both remote and local to the lab, required access to unique subsets of the 600+ lab elements to perform their required tests. Lab resource scheduling was manual, performed by single dedicated resource. Reservations were not locked, and the schedule was not visible outside the host team. In addition, coordinated communication internally and externally, along with cross-team scheduling, and robust user reporting capabilities, were identified as critical requirements.

Solution objectives:

  • Implement automated scheduling and tracking usage of all resources, eliminating manual setup and inefficiencies

  • Maximize capital investment of more than 600 test devices with over 50 remote and local testers underutilized

  • Provide for unique privacy for usage of devices and testing process for multi-vendor teams with competing interests

  • Improve communications inefficiencies with knowledge sharing and work transfer between all test teams to deliver reliable orchestration of testers and resource utilization

Spirent experts implemented lab management and orchestration of all testing resources. This involved a scalable and stable vendor-agnostic automation framework with a robust, easy-to-use tool with the appropriate interface and built-in support for validating a wide range of devices under test (DUTs) and testing devices. Functionality for utilization report archiving and logging all data to the reports database were included. As well, implementation of lab automation best practices was implemented to facilitate peerless collaboration of all assets between local and remote test teams.

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Benefits included:

  • Expanded configuration capacity, from 8 hours per 5-day week to 24/7, and provided flexibility to access and automate any device in the network

  • Lab transformation and optimization achieved, and capital investment maximized with enhanced device and human resource efficiencies

  • Budgeting management improvements via reports on equipment usage (Capex) and resource utilization (Opex)

  • Expanded testing capability as five test rooms set up and supporting over fifty manual testers across multiple locations—from 1 to 50+ testers

  • Security and privacy assured as workflow implemented ensured appropriate permissions and restricted visibility within each test room

  • Increased testing efficiency with expanded test coverage capabilities

FiberHome – Customer Profile

FiberHome is a global leader in optical communications equipment. Before the solution adoption, with over 100 test engineers worldwide, FiberHome typically set up 20 or more testbeds in its networking test labs for engineering testing as well as post-sales customer support. Due to the volume of testbed standups, FiberHome senior management determined they needed to increase overall lab efficiency to make engineers more productive, cut operating expenses, and reduce Capex. After performing a time and motion study, the team concluded that testbed standup time was the biggest opportunity for improvement since it was taking a week or more to stand up a single testbed.

Solution objectives:

  • Increase productivity with automated testbed standup

  • Share assets between automated and manual testing to cut Capex

  • Provide resource utilization measurement to improve decision making

  • Integrate tightly with FiberHome’s existing test platforms and equipment

Spirent experts worked closely with FiberHome to develop a customized solution to federate and transform their lab into a self-service operation that met the following requirements: Reduce testbed stand up and tear-down time in order to maximize user efficiency; Increase equipment utilization; Ensure engineers can get the testbed they need when they need it for testing; Provide metrics on equipment availability and usage to drive more effectively.

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Benefits included:

  • Reduced testbed standup time by 90%, cutting time from one week to five minutes, exponentially increasing productivity

  • Worldwide access for 100+ engineers who can reserve the equipment they need and spend their time doing testing versus manual standup

Calix – Customer Profile

Calix provides global cloud software platforms, systems and services required to deliver unified access networks and smart premises to communications service providers. They needed to deliver unified access networks and smart premises to help their customers build next-generation networks. This entailed embracing a DevOps operating model, optimizing the subscriber experience and turning the complexity of the smart home and business into new revenue streams. Calix recognized the only way to scale its product testing was to consolidate their regional labs into a single virtual lab serving all teams worldwide.

Solution objectives:

  • Self-service web portal, accessible by hundreds of simultaneous users across the globe, to seamlessly define and spin up network test environments

  • Zero touch provisioning with dynamic realization of physical, virtual and hybrid network topologies, and traffic generation

  • On-demand power up of equipment during a reservation and power down when done to reduce energy consumption

  • Automation of manual workflows such as equipment conflict resolutions to allocate resources to the highest priority needs

  • Equipment utilization reporting across any class of resource to facilitate Capex planning

Spirent’s lab automation experts worked closely with the Calix team to assure the lab consolidation would deliver on their promise to bring high-quality networking solutions to market faster. Spirent’s platforms and services help customers build automation for next generation networks by embracing DevOps operating models, optimizing user productivity, and leveraging analytics and data visualization.

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Benefits included:

  • Accelerated test lab setup 300x, with test setup reduced from 50 hours to 10 minutes.

  • Expanded access capacity, supporting hundreds of simultaneous users around the globe facilitating flexibility to automate any device in the network

  • Centralized efficiencies through lab optimization with zero touch provisioning physical, virtual and hybrid network topologies

  • Budgeting management improvements through equipment usage reduction (Capex) and energy utilization (Opex)

  • Expanded testing capability with automation of manual workflows to allocate priority resources

  • Increased testing efficiency and heightened productivity with expanded test coverage capabilities

The benefits of rethinking the lab

These organizations examined the advantages of cutting-edge test lab automation solutions providing the state-of-the-art in testing, the requirements of the 21st century test lab, and supporting service-oriented architecture. The Lab as a Service model has the objective of automating common lab functions while still allowing domain independence and supporting interoperability testing.

When telecom organizations don’t have the expertise, resources, or time, to perform testing and assurance functions internally, they may seek the option of choosing from a suite of managed solutions to perform these functions as a service.

One of these is Lab as a Service (LaaS) which combines a qualified partner’s test expertise, products, and resource management capabilities into a bundled service. This allows customers to quickly acquire advanced testing functions that are seamlessly integrated with other operator functions within their environment. This delivery expertise in LaaS should offer cloud-based and automated continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) continuous testing of multi-vendor communication service provider (CSP) solutions enabling web-scale agility and mature DevOps efficiencies. They should apply the latest cloud and virtualization techniques to foster highly efficient automated testing.

Learn more in Spirent’s Test and Lab Automation eBook Building the New Telecom Innovation Pipeline.

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Bhalaji Kumar
Bhalaji Kumar

Principal, Solution Architect, Spirent Managed Solutions Group

Bhalaji is a global telecommunications expert with over 30 years of experience across the telecom, network, cloud, virtualization and, wireless technologies. His technical proficiencies include network architecture, MANO, 5G, SD-WAN, OPNFV, AWS, cloud migration, broadband, managed cloud services, automation, and much more. He is also an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University, teaching a graduate-level course on SDN and NFV. He has authored two books (on Broadband Communications and XDSL Architectures for McGraw-Hill) and has presented extensively at conferences worldwide. He has an advanced management education from Stanford University, along with MBA, MSCS, and BSEE.