Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Daniel Gordon, John Walsh, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Sven Olav Lund

Related Topics: SDN Journal, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, @CloudExpo, Cloud Security, @DXWorldExpo

SDN Journal: Article

Software-Automated Testing for Software-Defined Networks

You should already be deploying software-driven testing processes, driven by a test and lab automation framework

Software-defined networks are all the rage these days - and why not? They offer the promised benefit of making networks far more agile and responsive to dynamically changing application requirements. Consequently, in theory, the entire networking-computing-storage-applications ecosystem of IT and telecom will dance nimbly to the contrapuntal rhythms of the top and bottom line. And let's not forget that there will be big-time winners and losers in the networking technology industry, making not only a fascinating business issue, but something of a blood sport as well, and who doesn't like to watch competitors bash each other silly?

Amid all the hype and hyperbole, there remains plenty of gritty detail in building, deploying, and maintaining networks, software-defined or not. One immensely important detail is making sure all this new-fangled networking will work, and that means testing. Networks may become software driven, but unless we find another dimension within which to switch communications data around, there will still be hardware. The vendor logo on the faceplate of that hardware may change over time, but hardware will still be humming away in millions of racks in thousands of data centers, central offices, points of presence, and telco closets. Inside those millions upon millions of pieces of hardware will be billions of virtual resources - hypervisors, virtual machines, virtual switches, and trillions of application instances. All of that, hardware included, has to be tested. Today, many software functions are collocated within the hardware - for example, the computation of network paths has been delivered within the switch or router.

The new frontier of SDN makes the picture more complex. Separate network components perform control-plane path calculations (now network-critical control plane functions) based on requests from applications and then propagate those paths to data-plane switches. From a testing point of view, functions that formerly ran in the software of a switch or router are now network applications, requiring testing against a matrix of network topologies and conditions. If the control plane breaks, the entire network will break catastrophically. If that doesn't qualify as something that needs extremely thorough testing, then maybe nothing does.

Let's consider what is involved in testing a service provider network today by taking the simplest case - adding a new piece of hardware or a software upgrade to something in the network. There is a huge, nay, massive matrix of hardware components, subcomponents, OS versions, firmware versions, configurations, etc., that are deployed in the network. Each hardware component amortizes over a very long time so they're not going away anytime soon. Consequently, each new bit must be tested against all the bits that are already deployed. This is a very large, time-consuming and expensive undertaking involving all the representative equipment sitting in a lab to do the job. Know of any service providers that only run one service? All those different services with all their features need to be tested, at different loads, etc.

Ironically, network testing is probably one of the least "software-enabled" functions in IT today, making testing more complex and less efficient. Imagine a large business that operated using manual phone switchboards for telephony, its messaging via sticky notes, and with no calendaring system. That doesn't exist in the front office of any business of scale today, but such a primitive state of IT automation is very common in large test labs, despite millions of dollars of capital, space and power being poured into labs annually. Very costly devices under test (DUTs) and test generators are often connected together with a spaghetti of cables and manual patch panels. Testing teams coordinate their usage of equipment through "hands off" post-it notes placed on equipment that is in use, and through emails. Visibility to and calendaring of resources is typically non-existent as well - it's all handled in a very manual fashion.

The lack of automation increases the time it takes to connect test equipment together and to configure the test devices so that they're ready for testing. Sorting through a tangle of cables and physically connecting the various test components into a testing topology can take hours or even days. A test engineer may take additional hours or days to load the right OS or firmware versions and configure the devices in a large test bed topology. Since nobody wants to make a mistake during setup and configuration, equipment is often kept locked down and powered up during that entire period. And that's when the new features arrive on time. If the new gear to be tested is delayed, given the onerous time investment just to prepare for the test, engineers often will simply keep test topologies locked up to avoid the risk of losing access to a critical test component or having their configuration messed up. The not-so-shocking result is that the ratio of time spent in setup and configuration vs. actual testing can be as lopsided as 80% vs. 20%. Ever hear of "process re-engineering?" This is a business process begging to be optimized. To recap, software-defined networks will add complexity to an already daunting testing task against a massive matrix of legacy and continually added new hardware and virtual network components. Most network test labs aren't software-driven today. What would it look like to software-enable network testing? Enter test and lab automation solutions, which are ideally flexible frameworks that can take these massive CAPEX and OPEX investments from the dark ages into the bright, post-modern light of efficiency and savings. Test and lab automation software does this by changing the way that test labs operate:

  • Connecting to, controlling and inventorying all the equipment in the lab, including DUTs, test devices L1 switches, and even power distribution units. All lab personnel now find gear and build their test topologies through a GUI rather than by manually hunting through telecom racks.
  • Enabling testers to build and schedule the precise resources needed in a test topology, including the design and activation of their connectivity, provisioning of proper OS and firmware versions onto devices, and configuration of logical parameters and features. This advanced scheduling and automated provisioning minimizes both physical and logical setup time, speeds test execution, improves sharing of resources, and enables test labs to deliver more test coverage in less time.
  • Automated administrative functions such as the ability to save and restore an entire test topology once it is designed, or to restore devices to a baseline state, cuts down on repeated design work, and prevents errors from tests run on the wrong device configurations
  • Tracking scheduling and activation indicators of device utilization and test completion provide vital business intelligence reports to help managers and architects continue to refine best practices and continuously improve efficiency.

What's the take away? If you're considering deploying software-defined networks, you should already be deploying software-driven testing processes, driven by a test and lab automation framework. To attempt to roll out such complex new technology without proper automation could lead to experiencing some hard realities.

More Stories By Alex Henthorn-Iwane

Alex Henthorn-Iwane joined QualiSystems in February 2013 and is responsible for worldwide marketing and public relations. Prior to joining QualiSystems, he was Vice-President of Marketing and Product Management at Packet Design, Inc., a provider of IP/MPLS route analytics network management software, and has 20+ years of experience in senior management, marketing and technical roles at telecom-oriented networking and security startups. Alex holds a BA from U.C. Berkeley.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"Space Monkey by Vivent Smart Home is a product that is a distributed cloud-based edge storage network. Vivent Smart Home, our parent company, is a smart home provider that places a lot of hard drives across homes in North America," explained JT Olds, Director of Engineering, and Brandon Crowfeather, Product Manager, at Vivint Smart Home, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Conference Guru has been named “Media Sponsor” of the 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organizers to pass great deals to gre...
DevOps is under attack because developers don’t want to mess with infrastructure. They will happily own their code into production, but want to use platforms instead of raw automation. That’s changing the landscape that we understand as DevOps with both architecture concepts (CloudNative) and process redefinition (SRE). Rob Hirschfeld’s recent work in Kubernetes operations has led to the conclusion that containers and related platforms have changed the way we should be thinking about DevOps and...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
The next XaaS is CICDaaS. Why? Because CICD saves developers a huge amount of time. CD is an especially great option for projects that require multiple and frequent contributions to be integrated. But… securing CICD best practices is an emerging, essential, yet little understood practice for DevOps teams and their Cloud Service Providers. The only way to get CICD to work in a highly secure environment takes collaboration, patience and persistence. Building CICD in the cloud requires rigorous ar...
Companies are harnessing data in ways we once associated with science fiction. Analysts have access to a plethora of visualization and reporting tools, but considering the vast amount of data businesses collect and limitations of CPUs, end users are forced to design their structures and systems with limitations. Until now. As the cloud toolkit to analyze data has evolved, GPUs have stepped in to massively parallel SQL, visualization and machine learning.
"Evatronix provides design services to companies that need to integrate the IoT technology in their products but they don't necessarily have the expertise, knowledge and design team to do so," explained Adam Morawiec, VP of Business Development at Evatronix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Jack Norris, Senior Vice President, Data and Applications at MapR Technologies, reviewed best practices to ...
"ZeroStack is a startup in Silicon Valley. We're solving a very interesting problem around bringing public cloud convenience with private cloud control for enterprises and mid-size companies," explained Kamesh Pemmaraju, VP of Product Management at ZeroStack, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Large industrial manufacturing organizations are adopting the agile principles of cloud software companies. The industrial manufacturing development process has not scaled over time. Now that design CAD teams are geographically distributed, centralizing their work is key. With large multi-gigabyte projects, outdated tools have stifled industrial team agility, time-to-market milestones, and impacted P&L stakeholders.
Enterprises are adopting Kubernetes to accelerate the development and the delivery of cloud-native applications. However, sharing a Kubernetes cluster between members of the same team can be challenging. And, sharing clusters across multiple teams is even harder. Kubernetes offers several constructs to help implement segmentation and isolation. However, these primitives can be complex to understand and apply. As a result, it’s becoming common for enterprises to end up with several clusters. Thi...
"Infoblox does DNS, DHCP and IP address management for not only enterprise networks but cloud networks as well. Customers are looking for a single platform that can extend not only in their private enterprise environment but private cloud, public cloud, tracking all the IP space and everything that is going on in that environment," explained Steve Salo, Principal Systems Engineer at Infoblox, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventio...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, James Henry, Co-CEO/CTO of Calgary Scientific Inc., introduced you to the challenges, solutions and benefits of training AI systems to solve visual problems with an emphasis on improving AIs with continuous training in the field. He explored applications in several industries and discussed technologies that allow the deployment of advanced visualization solutions to the cloud.
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, provided a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to oper...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Carl J. Levine, Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1, will objectively discuss how DNS is used to solve Digital Transformation challenges in large SaaS applications, CDNs, AdTech platforms, and other demanding use cases. Carl J. Levine is the Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1. A veteran of the Internet Infrastructure space, he has over a decade of experience with startups, networking protocols and Internet infrastructure, combined with the unique ability to it...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
Gemini is Yahoo’s native and search advertising platform. To ensure the quality of a complex distributed system that spans multiple products and components and across various desktop websites and mobile app and web experiences – both Yahoo owned and operated and third-party syndication (supply), with complex interaction with more than a billion users and numerous advertisers globally (demand) – it becomes imperative to automate a set of end-to-end tests 24x7 to detect bugs and regression. In th...