Advanced Test Automation: Making the Case for Test Lab Automation

Hold the phone! Stop the presses! Suspend the blogs! Abate the tweets!

Some breaking news: Testing is essential for achieving product quality, improving customer satisfaction, reducing costs and increasing revenue.

OK. So that’s not news. It’s pretty much common knowledge.

How about this: Test lab automation is an incredibly effective (but often overlooked) strategy to significantly reduce operating costs while at the same time improving test lab utilization, test coverage and product quality.

What? You say you already use automation to script all your tests? Good, because that’s a huge step to increase efficiency and reduce cost. If you haven’t automated your tests, you’re missing one of the best ways to boost productivity and impress your boss. (And the money guys, too.)

But I’m not talking about test automation. I’m talking about test lab automation. Aha!

See if this sounds familiar. A test lab with many systems to be tested and a range of test equipment. They are connected either directly or through a patch panel. Every time a test configuration changes, somebody has to go in and rewire the physical connections, hopefully not making a simple mistake that will eat up an hour or two in debugging time later on. Then the systems under test must be configured to support the particular test, or series of tests, for this session. Once again, hopefully with no time-wasting errors. Add to this scenario increased demand for access to the test lab from groups that may be anywhere in the world and may require on-site assistance with the physical setup and configuration, or with power-cycling a system at some odd hour if something goes wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Automation Lab with Messy Cables
This kind of setup, while common, is inefficient and makes it difficult to share, track and manage test lab resources. And it will continue to get worse as the number and types of interfaces and technologies to test increase, along with the demands for access from remote-site teams, telecommuters and off-shore developers.

And don’t forget collapsed development cycles, increased time-to-market pressure, lab consolidation and whatever else hits you tomorrow.

Which is why lots of organizations are turning to test lab automation to stop the madness and get some sanity back in the test lab.

Instead of what you’re doing now, consider this: A test lab where the systems under test and the test equipment are wired into physical layer switches that serve as programmable patch panels. An application on a PC (anywhere on the network, local or around the world) is used to make test topology changes, power cycle devices, search for and substitute alternate devices or ports if problems arise, configure DUTs and test devices, and schedule tests.

Now that’s a picture you could learn to like. Am I right?

Automation Lab Organized

Some pioneers have created what we might call the first generation of lab automation: home grown, ad hoc solutions. They’re a start, but suffer the shortcomings of all in-house efforts: usability issues, lack of scalability, limited or non-existent user support, and no path forward for enhancements and expansion.

The next generation comes from vendors who have been at the game for some time and have worked through the various customer challenges associated with lab automation. Second generation lab automation is characterized by holistic and product-agnostic solutions that simplify your life and accommodate the wide range of brands and technologies you already have in your lab.

Now that might be a stop-the-presses moment after all!


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