We’ve been doing network-switch testing for more than 10 years now, and the concept of a triple-play test (voice, video, and data) has been a part of our plans from the early days of ATM OC-12 through Gigabit Ethernet’s birth and now to 10 Gig.
In the old days, however, we’d need to generate our own video and voice data, mainly because, although our traffic-generation tools could emulate video and voice, they couldn’t quantify traffic quality; we had to measure that ourselves. Fortunately, with the newest generation of testing gear that Spirent brought to this showdown, the rest of you won’t need to suffer as we did.
One of our favorite pieces of Spirent test gear is the Abacus, a VoIP traffic emulator and quality quantifier that has served us well in melting VoIP PBXes throughout the years. New to this platform is Spirent’s IPTV Video Quality Test System, which is designed to catch MPEG-2 multicast video. Targeted at cable television providers or anyone deploying IPTV, the VQ Test System yields up V-Factor, Spirent’s name for its video quality measurement, providing a quantitative benchmark of video quality from the user’s perspective. Previously, we’d measure video quality simply by running it against heavy background traffic noise and looking for pixelation. Now, we can generate repeatable and numerically rendered quality results that offer much greater depth for testing analysis.
Spirent also brought the latest generation of its core network testing tool, now called the STC (Spirent TestCenter). Spirent sent us three of the 5RU STR appliances (model 5000A). An advanced testing suite, the TestCenter includes all the routing flavors under the rainbow. Spirent manages this breadth with a slick new Windows-Explorer-like GUI that allows much easier manipulation of network testing. For instance, it can split up ports in the chassis for automated testing across various parts of the enterprise. Backed by a TCL-based scripting language, the STC has more than enough power and customization capability to suit a wide target audience.
Spirent is actually at Version 1.20 of TestCenter, which has a noticeably easier-to-learn user interface. Unfortunately, 1.20 was literally in its last week of beta testing when our 10-Gig test began, so we had to content ourselves with Version 1.10, which required that we get some training from Spirent. Even so, we were highly impressed with TestCenter’s new functionality, including not only the power of its new 10-Gig-capable blades and chassis but the overall direction of its testing software.
Whereas Spirent’s SmartBits, Abacus, and Avalanche/Reflector product lines have long remained entirely separate products, TestCenter’s new direction is obviously to combine these tools, allowing them to communicate and even share test data across devices. Full-feature synergy isn’t quite all here yet, but TestCenter is definitely a step in the right direction.