There is an increased focus on SDN and NFV as operators seek to reduce costs and increase agility. They want the ability to turn a service on an off as required with a keystroke and without new equipment.
"(Testing) probes can do the same thing," said Pilar Somohano, general manager, service assurance, for Spirent. "If an MSO enables a service, the (virtual) probe comes (online) with it. If you discontinue it or move to another server or change the configuration, (the probe) responds to the need for agility."
Looking at virtual networks from the perspective of service assurance, the concern has been on the health of servers. However, an MSO providing a managed business service needs to not only verify its own network, but also to go beyond into the facilities of its customers.
"One of the biggest challenges is the networking devices in the data center itself," Somohano said. "(A virtual probe) saves time and money. You don't need to go inside the customer facility. You can handle (testing) remotely."
Virtual probes at the ends of the network need to speak the same language as their physical counterparts to make it easy for the service provider to determine the location of a problem.
"With the combination of virtual and physical probes, (an operator) selling a business service can verify if the failure is in Denver or in the middle of the transmission all the way to New York (for example). (An) analytics engine gathers information from all of the probe points," Somohano said.
Virtualization comes in different flavors in the testing world. While certain testing functions may require a physical box, this equipment is no longer constrained to its original functionality. With software, it can be configured based on the needs of, quite literally, the moment, said Jean Sebastien Tasse, product manager at EXFO (NASDAQ:EXFO).
Test function virtualization involves a time-based license that allows a specific test function to run on a testing device only when needed. "Operators can share testing software licenses across multiple platforms within their test fleet," said Vikas Arora, CTO of EXFO. "It also leverages the 'Power of the Cloud' to empower field technicians in real time with the right test capabilities and configurations on their field test and troubleshooting instruments."