Testing times are a-changing
The test and measurement market is the poor relation of the networks and telecoms industries. But, as the range of data technologies expands and bandwidth increases, it is playing an increasingly important role.
By Antony Savvas
With the proliferation of Internet Protocol (IP) networks; the great leap towards next-generation mobile networks; digital subscriber line (DSL) services; and Gigabit, 10Gbit and even 40Gbit solutions, the test and measurement sector certainly has a lot to cope with.
Martin Cowan, director of access strategy at major testing player Acterna, confirms the importance of the sector when delivering the back-up to both carriers and enterprises in coping with new technologies.
"In the mid-1990s we were in a flat market, but the growth generated by the Internet and the emergence of DSL and more powerful mobile networks has changed this. We're still the poor relations of the networks and telecoms industry, with maybe only 1% of the sales generated, but testing is increasingly important."
As far as the general corporate market is concerned, Acterna's Cowan says large companies are increasingly asking pertinent questions about the interoperability of the hardware being installed in their buildings.
"A customer like Citibank, for instance, won't want to leave anything to chance, and we're seeing those types of companies more readily ask for interoperability testing evidence from their suppliers," explains Cowan.
Acterna generates most of its business at the carrier level, and it is seeing a greater need for its services when training users to work its testing kit, which seems to illustrate the continuing skills shortage in the networks and telecoms industry.
Cowan says, "We're happy to oblige, but a few years ago you would expect that the end users you were dealing with would know exactly what the kit could do for them.
"That seems to have changed over the last few years, with a lot more users of the hardware coming from a non-telecoms background, but who knows, that might be a good thing in the long-run, with people with fresh ideas coming in."
In addition to extra basic training, Cowan says both enterprises and carriers are requesting more of Acterna's involvement in the development and drawing-up of service level agreements (SLAs).
Cowan says: "Previously, many customers just took what they were given by the carriers, but now they are more aware of what is possible and are also in a position to point at the greater competition.
"While an SLA may be another goal for the carrier to achieve, it can also set some useful ground rules for both sides, and our expertise can help both or either side realise what are fair working parameters."
So while the test and measurement industry is continuing to service its bread-and-butter market of hardware suppliers and carriers, it is increasingly helping corporates get to grips with rapidly advancing networks and telecoms technology.
Three of the test: new systems to test metro-nets, MPLS and traffic
NetTest has introduced the metroWATCH monitoring solution for metropolitan networks of all sizes, usable by "non-experts". MetroWATCH (right) generates automated alarms and calls to the network administrator and service provider or fibre maintenance contractor, enabling the administrator to track service level agreements and optical quality of service.
NetTest says metroWATCH is a solution to an old problem that has seen metropolitan network managers struggle with traditional network monitoring tools that don't tell them when problems arise.
With remote Web access, network managers can also access network status remotely. It is suitable for management of banking, airports and insurance.
metroWATCH also offers continuous assessment of fibre-optic plant quality, and automated alarms to maintenance teams and service providers. www.nettest.com
Several companies are focusing on MPLS testing, including Agilent Technologies. Agilent has licensed a set of MPLS tests from Marconi, with test scripts designed to speed automated testing of conformance to the IETF's MPLS RSVP Traffic Engineering (TE) standards.
Aimed at both service providers and network equipment manufacturers, the 375 scripts created by Marconi will be used on Agilent's RouterTester platform and incorporated into Agilent's MPLS conformance test suite software, bringing the total number of test cases included to more than 700.
The Marconi tests verify conformance to IETF documents RFC 2205 and RFC 3209. Agilent introduced some of the industry's first conformance tests for MPLS in 2000, and the latest Marconi ones were developed using Agilent's RouterTester user programming tools. www.agilent.com
Service providers basing services on Cisco's MPLS architecture can use Concord Communications' eHealth Suite of service management software.
eHealth monitors priority information to map how a router has treated each packet, based on individual customers or services to ensure the MPLS system the service provider is using meets Quality of Service levels. eHealth monitors network traffic so that service providers can prevent bottlenecks, ensuring the router is prioritising content appropriately.
Equant is one of the first eHealth clients. Jack Norris, head of customer service and network at Equant, says: "e-Health has empowered us to take random network events that threaten service performance out of the equation. We can now prevent bottlenecks with granular drill-down capability." www.concord.com