Spirent fuels Calix's testing across a single, virtual automated lab

Spirent collaborated with Calix to create the Calix Virtual Innovation Lab, which is a fully automated, remotely accessible network testing lab. (Spirent)

Calix and Spirent have been working together for more than three years on a laboratory-as-a-service platform, but that work took on added importance during coronavirus pandemic.

Spirent's lab-as-a-service platform, which is called Velocity, enables vendors and service providers to speed up their testing cycles while also significantly lowering powering and capex, among other benefits. Velocity is at the heart of Calix's Virtual Innovation Lab, which folded all of its previous lab work into one data center in Salt Lake City.

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How it works

"We saw this transformation in the beginning of these little skunk work projects to start converting hardware network technology into software and cloud based technology, which now is being widely deployed," said Spirent's Patrick Johnson, vice president of services for lifecycle service assurance, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "In that process, we've seen big challenges. Those challenges included how are our customers going to take this physical world and transform it into a more agile software world?

"The labs as they are today are incredibly complex. They're made up of many different heterogeneous devices. There are many, many different labs that support very specific siloed functions, and there's no collaboration. There's no integration and everything has to be handled and managed manually."

With the move to software, Johnson said there's a need for more agility in labs. Velocity uses a REST API to enable customization with other systems, which also makes it suitable for DevOps pipeline integration across heterogeneous environments.

The lab-as-a-service platform enables automation of complex heterogeneous compute, network and storage environments—including physical, virtual, hybrid—significantly increasing the frequency by which test environments can be spun up or spun down.

"This lab-as-a service is transforming all these labs into a common abstracted, easy to use cloud interface," Johnson said. "It's web based, and it provides on demand delivery of these networking and lab resources to developers, testers, pre and post sale support teams, customers, and  vendors. It does it in a very, very easy to use and unique way to provide access management.

"We manage the user policies and group policies so you can control who comes into the lab, what they can see and what they can do. We do resource management, so physical, virtual cabling, connectivity requirements, and all types of lab resources. We manage the state of that inventory and it's availability. We manage the access and connectivity policies so that you know what can be connected from one point to another point."

 

Velocity abstracts out every device as an application component or visual component that can be easily dragged on to the virtual lab web portal, connected and provisioned. Once that happens, that application can be shared with the different types of groups across different functions. All of the functions of the lab-as-a-service platform are documentable, according to Johnson. Once a test is completed, the virtual lab automatically powers down

Across various domains, Spirent has more than 100 customers for Velocity, including Nokia and Fiberhome Networks. Johnson said Spirent has one customers that is spinning up 4,000 test beds a week.

For Calix, the Velocity platform means it can spin up new lab environments at a much faster rate. Prior to Velocity, it took Calix 50 man-hours to set up complex network lab tests. With the automation of the workflows, it now takes about 10 minutes, according to Calix Chief Development Officer Michel Langlois. Langlois said Calix has close to 1,200 topologies that it can instantiate with a common pool of equipment.

"If you change the topology, the system and Velocity will instruct all the technology that we have to reconnect on the fly and guarantee the result," Langlois said. "So what used to take me days can be done in hours now to essentially take an environment topology, assemble it, disassemble it and put it back for somebody else to use.

"Or even better if you're an engineer you test your product, you have some problem, you can leave your topology there with everything recorded at the time of that failure mode if you want. Four days after that you can replicate it exactly to start again at the same point."

Calix first started using Velocity for a deployment of NG-PON2 (Next Generation Passive Optical Network) across enterprises, Wi-Fi 6, 5G fronthaul, IoT and consumer broadband segments. Calix realized that NG-PON2 would significantly increase the complexity of product development and the scale of testing required. The large increase in network capacity enabled by NG-PON2 made it uneconomical to follow a traditional paradigm of scaling out testing across geographically distributed labs.

"The first test we wanted to do was 'Can we use it for all of that products that we have from the small two port to the one that that has a dozen line cards,' and can  we connect like 16,000 subscribers, which was required for Verizon for example," Langlois said. "We also tested the boundary of the virtual logical network element to test the control plane and OSS provisioning. What's interesting is the capability I now have to connect to the service provider's operating system remotely as well. A lot of those things were not done or available before. Now they are open to us."

Velocity use explodes during COVID-19

In addition to not needing to create a physical lab for each customer, as well as capex savings on equipment and lower powering, Langlois said that Calix realized it could offer the Velocity platform to its customers as well. During the coronavirus pandemic, Calix and its customers didn't miss a beat because of the virtual lab testing capabilities even though customer employees were working from home or working from anywhere.

"Some of them started to want to know how to rent that space as a service so they could do their own testing using our equipment in this environment," according to Langlois, who also said a demonstration of the platform enabled Calix to close a large deal recently. "I saw a lot more demand around those techniques. And another aspect is if you're really going to do remote testing, you are one step closer to doing remote management, or remote provisioning or remote debugging.

"This whole thing (COVID-19) is going to accelerate what we thought would happen a few years from now. You can imagine people were really skeptical it could be done. It does work and it does scale."

Johnson said the demand for Velocity exploded during the coronavirus pandemic due to restrictions in gaining access to physical labs.

They're seeing real problems with business continuity being an issue," Johnson said. "This is forcing people to act and make this transformation."

Culture club

Over the past three years, Langlois said he had to change the cultural mindset of his engineers, who were not used to working in an open, collaborative manner.

"It took us two to three years to change the culture of the engineer from not sharing and not trusting to 'Hey this is pretty cool to have,'" he said. "Now they say 'I want more.' It took a long way  to get to that result, but we're there now.

"I have access 24/7 and everybody can access and reserve time. I have the ability to manage the behavior of the engineers so they learn to share."

Johnson said working with Calix over the past year has helped Spirent build out the capabilities of Velocity to scale and build stable networking environments for the lab-as-a-service offering.

As for Calix, Langlois said the Velocity platform has better enabled his company's ability to compete against larger vendors, and that the virtual lab will continue to evolve.

"We're going to continue to push the envelope of that up on the cloud side because I also have to integrate with cloud technology that could live within AWS as applications," he said. "So there's a lot around how we're going to do this integration end-to-end."

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