In the average datacenter, a lot of IT resources are spent on preproduction application testing. Servers, networks, databases, and applications must all be deployed, followed by a series of installs and uninstalls for various versions of the application environment being put through its paces. The more homegrown applications you create, the more staff hours you burn on this repetitive but crucial work. “It’s all quite churny,” says James Phillips, CEO of Akimbi.
Akimbi’s solution was to virtualize the test bench. Its product was originally developed in 2002 for internal use at Ensim, a provider of software to automate IP and application service provisioning. In 2004, when Phillips and his team started getting requests from other companies who wanted a similar tool, they spun off Akimbi.
Akimbi’s product, Slingshot, creates virtual test bench environments based on specifications that application developers enter via a self-service interface. It works by storing libraries of configuration templates that can easily be reactivated as needed. This allows IT to quickly create baseline configurations from existing test benches and save variations either from a modified (virtual) test bench or from user specifications.
The virtual test benches can be deployed onto a variety of server virtualization systems, including VMware, Microsoft Virtual Server, and Xen. This approach means multiple test benches can run at the same time, using the same hardware resources and even physical network ports. And Slingshot allows IT to maintain control over the underlying resources, by specifying quotas and policies.
Having a library of configurations makes it easy for all sorts of users to design computing environments. For example, support staff could capture a troubled system and provide an exact replica, including all settings, to second-line engineers trying to figure out what’s going on — even if the two teams are not located near each other. Or security staff could maintain original versions and progressive snapshots of critical systems and compare them in order to isolate possible intrusions or alterations.
In a sense, Akimbi’s tools work similar to the familiar disk images used to configure PCs. By combining that concept with virtualization and management tools, Akimbi brings configuration management to a whole new level.