Agilent offers one-box metro testing

With the backbone spending splurge over and done with, service providers are now looking to the metro and edge of their networks to develop new services and in turn, new revenue streams. And as time to market becomes of the essence, Agilent Technologies Inc. says it is prepared to offer testing tools that speed the deployment of equipment and services without sacrificing quality of performance.

Last month, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company announced new tools for its RouterTester 900 platform that stress service implementations past their breaking points, giving service providers a clear view of performance limitations before they are released into use.

The offerings include point-to-point protocol (PPP) testing capabilities, support for interoperability and scalability testing of Layer-2-over-MPLS VPNs, as well as new IP multicasting tools.

According to Tara Lindley, products manager for Agilent’s Advanced Network Division out of Burnaby, B.C., the point-to-point protocol has been long used by millions of dial-up subscribers to connect to their service providers point of presence (POP).

“When you are looking at this protocol, it requires a minimum of 13 protocol exchanges to establish a single session,” Lindley explained. “You want to test the robustness of the protocol implementation when you are initiating thousands of PPP sessions. The biggest thing for service providers is to…understand how many end users they can support. You are really wanting to break the box to figure out what is the ultimate number of subscribers you can support on your network.”

Lindley said that service providers also need to know how quickly they are able to establish those sessions, and added that if a link goes down, customers need to be reconnected fast.

“Any type of downtime translates into lost revenue for that service provider,” she said.

With RouterTester’s testing for Layer 2 over MPLS VPN, Agilent said users can verify Layer 2 virtual circuit functionality, determine session set-up rates and evaluate the number of sessions the device can support in both normal and extreme network conditions.

“Traditionally when you look at the edge devices being built, they will support multicast plus several types of VPN technologies, plus PPP, so everything needs to be tested,” Lindley said. “Instead of buying separate pieces of equipment to test every service, you can test it with one comprehensive piece of equipment.”

She said that in the case of network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) time to market is the biggest issue, but getting the services to market can also be tricky, as the majority of services and standards are still evolving.

“NEMs are looking for a product that can test these services as quickly as possible. Right now RouterTester is working on many of the industry forms and defining the test methodologies for these services. We are able to test them to standard, or if they are not standard yet, test the to the level where NEMs can be confident of how they are going to perform once they are deployed.”

According to Hyperchip Inc., a Montreal-based NEM and user of Agilent test gear, it is important that the tester manufacturer stay on top of changes and implement them in a quick and stable manner.

“We are looking at new standards that are coming into play with MPLS like VPNs,” said Remi Makhoul, vice-president of business development for Hyperchip. “Our systems engineering team is always in close discussion with Agilent in terms of new software releases. What we have seen is that Agilent is one of the quickest to respond to test challenges with some of the best products as well.”

Frost & Sullivan Canada’s Ronald Gruia agreed with Makhoul’s assessment. Gruia, program leader for enterprise communications in Toronto, said that while the numbers are down in terms of spending across the telecommunications industry, many service providers and NEMs may see the RouterTester as more of an investment, rather than a point testing tool.

“It enables companies to test different scenarios and prepare for certain events,” Gruia said. “I wouldn’t expect it to be cheap, considering the level of sophistication it offers, which is why it will most likely be seen as an investment.”

The RouterTester 900 is available now, and pricing starts at $46,800. Test tool modules are sold separately. For more information, visit