How to keep virtual test environments in check

You choose: Cost, time and labour savings or wasted resources and management nightmare.

Virtual server technologies used in preproduction environments promise cost, time and labor savings, yet the same tools left unchecked can result in complex configurations, wasted resources and management nightmares for IT staff.

Virtualization removes the physical server constraints of test environments and enables sharing of resources among IT staff to make test work easier, but its use needs to be carefully controlled, industry analysts and IT professionals say.

"One of the pitfalls of using virtualization in test environments is the proliferation of images, especially when testing multiple configurations across different operating systems," says Carey Schwaber, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "There has to be a real effort around controlling this environment with policies to prevent the environment from growing too much or becoming unused resources."

Avoiding test-server sprawl

Tim Antonowicz, systems engineer at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, says virtualization helps his team test software without requiring the build of a new operating system or cluttering a developer's workstation with another piece of software. He has 55 test stage, or sandbox, virtual machines (VM) running.

"Sandboxes are basic VMs where we test and evaluate various software offerings without expectation. If we want to try out something new, run a beta version or just play with a new idea, we roll out a sandbox VM," Antonowicz says.

Using virtualization in such a way -- as a tactical tool for testing -- is common. But most IT organizations haven't standardized their use of virtualization for testing across the enterprise. Different IT groups wind up operating their own pockets of virtual servers that aren't always properly managed or decommissioned. Industry watchers argue the benefits of using virtualization in test labs have yet to be fully realized because of these inconsistencies.

"It is important to have consistency when testing, and IT needs a comprehensive management approach to ensure proper coordination between physical machines and virtual resources," says Melinda Ballou, a principal analyst at IDC.

To help IT managers gain control of their testing resources, virtual test lab management vendors have been coming out with new tools.

Vendors such as Akimbi (acquired by VMware), CollabNet, VMLogix and Surgient have emerged in the past two years with products aimed squarely at those enterprise companies using virtual server tools to quickly build up and tear down testing environments. The products include automated features that track virtual machines and capture configuration data to be stored in libraries for future use.

For instance, Akimbi's Slingshot product, now VMware's Lab Manager, lets IT managers build a software test infrastructure to automate the setup and teardown of multiple VM environments. Surgient's Virtual QA/Test Lab Management System speeds the test process for enterprise IT managers by consolidating test infrastructure and making it possible to automate the setup and teardown of complex test configurations on demand.

IT staff at Sisters of Mercy Healthcare in St. Louis, Mo., turned to VMware and Surgient when they realized the prospect of upgrading 24,000 desktops for a workstation refresh would drain staff resources without delivering the desired results.

"We had a desktop refresh cycle that involves all the computers in the enterprise being upgrade to the same operating system and the same lockdown strategy. We had multiple environments we had to bring up to speed," says Brian Boresi, manager of client engineering. "Doing that across 24,000 workstations, to say the least, is labor- and time-intensive, too much for us because we have to follow a very rapid deployment schedule."

While the IT team realized virtualization was the only realistic option for such a large desktop rollout, Boresi says he knew they needed help managing the test lab as well. Rather than have an IT staff member physically meet with each desktop owner to determine application requirements, Boresi says Surgient enables his team to automate the process of creating multiple configurations in the test lab and change those configurations based on the user workstation environment.

"We currently support 600 applications, have a short turnaround time and aggressive rollout schedule. There is no way we could do this without an automated way to test and deploy these applications," Boresi says.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Denise Dubie

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?