Cisco Modeling Labs Makes Network Testing Easier

With the software platform, organizations can design, build, test and launch network simulations in a virtual environment.

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Trends like the Internet of things and mobile computing are putting increasing pressure on networks to keep up with rapidly changing demands. That in turn is putting a strain on IT professionals who are responsible for growing these networks to meet the demands.

Cisco Systems is offering a way to ease the burden with its new Cisco Modeling Labs, which enables network engineers to design, build and deploy real-world simulations of physical networks in a virtual environment.

Designing, building, testing and launching physical networks can be an expensive, complex and time-consuming endeavor, and the Internet of things (IoT), big data, mobile computing and the cloud are putting a premium on the need to speed up the process, according to Milind Gurjar, senior director for Cisco Learning Services.

It currently can take days to build out such a network before it can be tested, validated and deployed, Gurjar said. With the Cisco Modeling Labs, designing a network topology and turning it into a virtual network takes minutes, according to Nour Abu Sheikh, product manager for Cisco Learning Services. And once all the work is done, the network can be quickly taken apart.

"The challenge is, how do you take a network and simulate that [test] network in the real world with the time and budget constraints without taking down the running network," Abu Sheikh said in an interview with eWEEK.

With the IoT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD), the number of devices and sensors connecting to the network will only increase. Cloud computing and big data will increase the amount of data moving over the networks. There also is the movement toward software-defined networks (SDNs) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) to further complicate the situation, the Cisco officials said.

The Cisco Modeling Labs is a software platform that gives organizations a sandbox in which to build, test, troubleshoot and tear down virtual networks. It's an on-premises offering, and Cisco officials are encouraging customers to run it atop the vendor's Unified Computing System (UCS) converged solution, either the C220 M3 rack server with 16 CPU cores and 128GB of memory for network simulations with up to 40 virtual nodes, or the C460 with 40 cores and 256GB of memory for virtual networks with more nodes.

At a minimum, the software needs 16GB and four CPU cores in a Linux server running VMware's ESXi 5.1 or above virtualization software. The test platform can run atop hardware other than the UCS, but Cisco officials in a FAQ Web page say the performance may take a hit if used with some other vendor's systems.

The platform includes a Cisco Modeling Labs server and a Cisco Modeling Labs client, and comes with a virtual image running the company's IOSv Software Release 15.4(2)T or a Linux server.

"This is a real-world IOS," Abu Sheikh said. "It's the same IOS that runs in our routers."

Overall, the Cisco Modeling Labs can save organizations money by reducing the amount of lab equipment that is needed and reducing the overall footprint needed for labs. In addition, network scalability is easier than with physical networks, customers can more quickly spin out new services and uptime is improved through "what-if" scenarios.

Cisco officials say the platform can be used for a range of tasks, from evaluating how the IoT or the cloud will impact their networks to implementing IPv6 and preparing for distributed denial-of-service attacks.

In addition, once the virtual network is up and running, organizations can connect it to a physical network in the lab, where more robust testing and simulation can be done, Abu Sheikh said.