Agilent calls for shift in test philosophy

Coinciding with the release of its new carrier equipment testing tools, Agilent Technologies Inc. is calling on gear makers to take a more pragmatic approach toward testing network technology. However, users and analysts question the company’s gung-ho attitude.

It’s no longer enough to reluctantly test switches and routers for potential problems, said Duane Sword, Agilent’s worldwide business development manager, advanced networks division. Equipment makers must adopt a new attitude around testing to match carriers’ expectations.

Sword said many equipment makers see testing as “a necessary evil. If you don’t do it, you might find problems in your product that you wish you’d found earlier. It might cost you more to do regression testing, or it might delay your release because you have to go back and do bug fixes.”

He advocates a more proactive method to designing routers, switches and other network elements. Such a process would involve embracing tests as a core aspect of the entire construction picture. He said Agilent’s concept fits well with the release of its latest devices. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based network diagnostic tool maker has a new set of products designed to help equipment builders create robust routers and switches for the metro area network (MAN).

The MAN sits between the network core and the local access loop. Built on ancient technology, it’s considered the bottleneck between carriers and end-users that seek bandwidth-intense services. Agilent’s latest tools are designed to test next-generation MAN switches, which could help break that bottleneck.

Agilent unveiled the OmniBER XM network simulator in April. According to Neil Wotherspoon, Agilent’s product marketing manager, telecommunications networks test division, it generates network signals with various payload sizes, errors and alarms. When attached to new devices, it gives equipment makers a sense of how well switches will perform in real-world conditions.

Agilent also announced that its OmniBER OTN performance analyzer, which tests network elements on how well they convert Ethernet to SONET/SDH and optical transport network (OTN) signals, now tests Gigabit Ethernet transmissions and measures jitter up to 10.71Gbps (OTN speed).

As well, the company unveiled the RouterTester 900. It’s based on Agilent’s RouterTester for core network elements but, with MPLS-VPN, IP multicast and Ipv6 test capabilities, is meant for the MAN.

Agilent also has a new option for its “test set,” a portable box for carriers to test communication across installed MANs. The J2127A supports line rates up to 10Gbps and is now capable of testing Gigabit Ethernet transmission rates simultaneously alongside eight 10-100 Base-T service ports.

Sword said this new equipment plays a role in Agilent’s theory of testing: no network equipment maker is an island. “Embrace us as a partner that helps you design a test plan that’s going to give you coverage, making sure you’re completely aware of the interoperability challenges, that you’re up to date with the latest trends and changing protocols.”

Ed Dziadzio, director of product marketing with Tropic Networks Inc., a MAN equipment maker in Kanata, Ont. that uses Agilent’s tools, said Sword’s philosophy is not news to network equipment makers. Testing already is a core part of his company’s rollouts.

“There were days back a couple of years ago when carriers would be more casual about what they took into their labs… (But) they don’t have those resources to spare anymore, so your product had better be on target, working as advertised when they get it into the lab or you lose your shot.”

Ronald Gruia, program leader for enterprise communications solutions with Frost & Sullivan Canada, said it’s unlikely that Agilent’s pro-test attitude would make much difference to equipment makers. They already test vigilantly, he said, and most of them use Agilent’s tools to do it.

But concerning the company’s latest products, designed to fool switches into thinking they’re dealing with a real network, Gruia said Agilent is on the money.

“It’s very difficult for a vendor to know what a customer is going to do on the network,” he said. Agilent might well provide the insight that equipment makers seek.

Agilent’s OmniBER XM network simulator is priced from US$16,000 for the OC-12 blade to US$78,000 for the OC-192 blade, available in early 2003. The OmniBER OTN performance analyzer is priced to start at US$120,000, available now. RouterTester 900 starts at US$16,000 and is currently available. The J2127A Test Set starts at US$25,000 and will be available this month. For more information, consult Agilent’s Web site,