Operators and enterprises are taking a fresh look at automating network test labs to drive speed, innovation, and cost reduction while improving how they collaborate with customers and suppliers.
The sudden emergence of COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend as engineers grapple with work-from-home realities resulting in limited access, if any, to the lab. But they’re seeing a path forward with enhanced lab automation. Lab automation produces clear near- and long-term benefits. Test beds are delivered in minutes versus days. Complex network designs are shared and collaborated around in real-time and across vast distances with more teams, suppliers and customers. Innovation and rapid solution delivery improve with reduced cost and increased productivity.
But what’s the best way to begin?
Start fast with work order automation
Starting lab automation from scratch can feel like a daunting challenge, but it doesn’t need to be. An initial goal that is emerging as best practice is to automate work order flow. Keep in mind that in many instances, work orders are derived from designs sketched out on a whiteboard or pieced together offline in a visualization tool. When the visualized design is submitted to the lab, techs typically are left to determine whether resources are available to provision the test bed and sort which connection and configuration aspects must be changed. A large portion of the effort to go from design to provisioning occurs here and can be reduced quickly.
Lab as a service (LaaS) platforms can help you put remotely-accessible lab automation into place with a step-by-step approach that can begin delivering benefits in as little as 10 days:
First, auto-discovery capabilities will capture the current configuration and resources available in the test lab.
The network image is made available through a “single pane of glass” to network engineers who stand up a sandbox, create a test bed design and share it with all stakeholders.
A shareable environment fosters collaboration much like digital economy workers are accustomed to with tools like Zoom, JIRA or Slack. Stakeholders may include other engineers and lab techs, as well as other collaborators like suppliers, partners and customers.
Once a design is completed, it can be issued to lab techs as a work order.
The work order focuses on the “deltas” (i.e., those changes the tech needs to make to the existing lab configuration to implement the test bed).
Get much more out of your lab environment
In a fully automated lab environment, where any-to-any connectivity has already been built out, this work order can be zero-touch provisioned in a fully automated fashion, but this isn’t a requirement. Automating work orders in this manner eliminates the need for the lab tech to decipher the design. It not only accelerates the ability to provision any one test bed but makes the tech substantially more efficient at implementing a much greater volume of designs. In the work from home world that’s become a reality, this means the socially isolated lab tech can operate far more effectively.
Companies that have deployed lab as a service are not only well equipped to transition labs to a work from home scenario, but are driving collaboration globally and across organizational, partner and supplier borders.
Powerful results delivered in weeks
are not only well equipped to transition labs to a work from home scenario, but are driving collaboration globally and across organizational, partner and supplier borders. They have achieved as great as 300x reductions in test bed configuration timeframes, slashing 50-hour processes down to just 10 minutes. They are also overcoming limitations like labs being bound to specific locations or teams, opening the door to enterprise-wide and global collaboration. These initial steps, such as work order automation, were online within weeks and, in some cases, as little as ten days.
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