By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-08-21 Print this article Print

Version 4.5 of Shunra Softwares Shunra Virtual Enterprise is an intricate testing solution that allows administrators to ensure an applications performance under a variety of network settings.

Announced in June, VE 4.5 adds support for MPLS (Multi-protocol Label Switching)-routed networks. This allowed eWeek Labs to simulate complex routing conditions during tests, such as different paths depending on TOS (type of service).

VE 4.5 also provides new capabilities for simulating the network conditions characteristic of wireless clients (such as roaming) and can simulate different conditions for endpoint machines—the latter enabling administrators to emulate an individual clients network conditions over the Internet in addition to site-to-site intranet connectivity.

But we were most interested in Shunras recent attempts to transform its products from narrowly focused network emulation tools to more complete testing and service-level-objective conformance tools.

There are a number of more affordable emulation solutions out there (1U Rings Network Nightmare, for example), not to mention free ones (such as the Linux-based NIST Net from the National Institute of Standards and Technology), so Shunra has worked hard to transform the VE platform into a more complete testing solution that automates changing network conditions while integrating with third-party test tools such as Mercury Interactives (soon to be Hewlett-Packards) LoadRunner or Borland Softwares SilkPerformer.

Click here to read an interview with HPs Ann Livermore about the Mercury acquisition. With Network Nightmare and NIST Net, administrators have to manually define network conditions, run the test and then establish the next set of conditions. (Lather, rinse, repeat.) VE 4.5, in contrast, automates all that, taking a pre-existing test script and a predefined range of network conditions and combining it all into an automated set of tests while collecting and reporting on the results obtained.

Customers should expect to pay about $75,000 for a new VE deployment, including the STN model VE appliance (which includes the VE Reporter and VE Modeler software packages) plus the VE Predictor and VE Profiler applications.

VE Profiler can be used to guarantee service-level objectives for critical network-based applications, such as ensuring that users can log in or create a report within a specified amount of time under any network conditions.

Using the VE LoadRunner console, we created a script that logged a user in to our Zimbra Web mail application, created and sent a test e-mail, and then logged out of the application. VE LoadRunner broke each of these individual actions into reportable components within the test script.

Using VE Profiler, we defined a series of network conditions that the application would be subjected to in a production network—such as range of bandwidth speeds, latency periods, packet-loss conditions and numbers of simultaneous users. We defined acceptable levels of performance for application processes, and VE Profiler then calculated the number of test iterations needed to fulfill the test and the estimated time to run the test.

Integrating VE 4.5 with LoadRunner could have been a little more straightforward. In our initial testbed configuration, we set up the VE appliance as a bridge between two network segments while we managed the appliance via the out-of-band management port. We could not auto-detect the LoadRunner controller in the test network, and Shunra representatives suggested that we needed to manage the VE 4.5 appliance in-band. This worked, but it canceled out the advantages of out-of-band management.

We also would like to see Shunra ease the process of changing the default save location for LoadRunners voluminous log files: VE Profiler automatically saved the files to the disk-space-strapped C: drive on the LoadRunner controller, causing numerous tests to fail in midstream.

VE 4.5s VE Reporter module retains all data—for both aborted and completed tests—culled from the VE Predictor and VE Profiler modules in the included MySQL database. VE Reporter displays the findings in a clear interface that features a number of easily understandable reports; the reports highlight an applications success rate at meeting defined service-level objectives against varying conditions.

Starting with VE 4.0, Shunra changed the way its management software interacts with the central VE appliance (previously known as Storm). Administrators now build network configurations in the VE Modeler tool. However, VE Modeler still leverages Microsofts Visio XP or 2003 to design network architectures, so administrators will need to have that software installed on the Shunra management workstation.

For the last two years, weve been using an older version of Shunras enterprise product in our labs to emulate WAN speeds in various testbeds. For this test of VE 4.5, we decided to upgrade our Shunra Storm STX-100 appliance rather than obtain a new device. The two-part upgrade process required two firmware updates for the appliance itself, as well as a series of software upgrades to our management workstation.

Because the existing management workstation was due to be retired soon anyway, we decided to install VE 4.5s management software on a new workstation rather than attempt the seemingly arduous software upgrade process.

Unfortunately, our decision to upgrade the old appliance ultimately sabotaged our test experience with VE 4.5. We previously suspected at least one of the appliances Ethernet ports was experiencing trouble auto-negotiating with other network devices—a suspicion that was confirmed as our tests progressed and we could never auto-detect devices in our test network when we used Port 2 on the appliance.

Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at andrew_garcia@ziffdavis.com.

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Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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