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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Network and Routing Tools for QA

Originally published on 10/9/08 as
QA Tech-Tip - October: Network and Routing QA Tools

Hello everybody!

This tech-tip will be a departure from the usual “single command or option” type tech-tip I’ve done in the past. In fact, I’m going to discuss an entire operating system!

The boundary between applications, end-users and the Internet is becoming increasingly indistinct as more and more products depend on network connectivity for some or all of their functionality.  If you have a security suite or anti-virus application that receives automatic updates you will know exactly what I am talking about.

The problem is that the successful software QA Engineer / Analyst needs to become increasingly proficient in disciplines that were once considered outside the domain of Software QA, such as network architecture and infrastructure, bandwidth, security, WEB services, and so on.

This is compounded by the additional problem of learning these skills on a modest budget.

Fortunately much of this can be done with an inexpensive Linux setup: Apache for web services, Wireshark and Netmon for network health and packet inspection, IPtables (etc) for firewalling. . . .  Etc.

One of the final roadblocks in the way of the successful QA Engineer involves non-trivial routing, WAN load balancing or firewalls using “enterprise class” equipment. Many of the jobs I see out there today for the software QA Engineer need or want higher-end networking, (and telecom), experience.  WAN routing and load-balancing, multi-homed WAN, persistent VPN tunnels, point-to-point, (etc.), all of these things are needful to know for the up-and-coming QA analyst.

And few of us have the dollars necessary to get themselves a full-blown Cisco router to play with.

That roadblock has just fallen, thanks to a company called Vyatta.

“Vyatta?  Who’s that?!” you ask?  Well you should ask this – as not too many people have heard of Vyatta. Yet.

Vyatta is a small company out in California who has taken mature open source software, (Debian GNU/Linux to be exact), stripped it to its bare essentials, and released a software version of a high-end Cisco / Juniper / Nortel router that runs on virtually anything with a ‘x86 processor and a few megs of memory.  (At least 128 megs, to be exact.)

They’ve just released version 4 of their router software – and to mark the occasion they hired the Tolley Group to do an independent verification of their software, (on a beefy Xeon box), head-to-head with the best Cisco has to offer.  Result: Vyatta ate Cisco’s lunch.  And Vyatta did it for about one tenth the price of the Cisco equipment - *including* the cost of the beefy Xeon!

What is more important to us as QA engineers is that the software itself is Open Source – meaning you can download a copy, free of charge, and play with it yourself.  This provides a golden opportunity for people in QA to become more familiar with Internet edge-facing equipment at a minimal investment.  And if you’re using a smaller scale network with lower-than-gigabit requirements, it allows you to use less expensive hardware to host it.

In fact – at right around 150 meg’s in size, their live image CD ISO won’t take long to download even if your Internet connection is less than stellar.

That’s right kiddies, I said “live image CD”.

You can, if you wish, run it “out of the box” without even having to install it.  Just make sure there’s a blank floppy around to save your configurations.  Or – if you have the hardware to spare – you can install right off the CD.  They have oodles of documents (in PDF) right there so you can get a head-start on getting your system up and running.

IMHO, Vyatta is engaging in some extremely shrewd marketing here – they distribute Open Source software to interested parties.  This is a lot like the “Apple in the Schoolroom” marketing approach that Apple took years ago to guarantee a solid user-base for themselves.  People get a chance to use the stuff – learn how it works and what it can do – and then, when the time comes, they’ll recommend it as a “buy” when it comes time to join the Big Leagues.

Even if you don’t use one of Vyatta’s hardware solutions, (pre-loaded with Vyatta’s software, of course!), you can buy priority service support on an incremental basis.  It’s not cheap, but compared to things like Cisco’s service, it’s not all that expensive either.

Go take a peek – http://www.vyatta.com/


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