The clear implication of telecom network performance testing trends is that tighter coupling of network operations centers (NOCs) and testing processes will increasingly be required by network operators and will be a differentiator for test equipment vendors. The framework of this cooperation is likely to come out of the programming or scripting of test sequences, which has been evolving in the network test equipment market from individual vendors and from higher-level, cross-platform tools.
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This sort of integration is in its infancy, but some operators have already provided some of their future requirements:
- Interactive coordination between the NOC and lab or field testers where the test sequences can be dispatched by the NOC (manually or automatically) and the results returned to the NOC in a predetermined form.
- Direct network connection between the NOC and field/lab testing.
- Software to correlate lab and field test conditions with NOC monitoring results to improve problem determination and resolution and to facilitate fast commissioning of new devices or components in the field.
New service-layer architectures require network performance testing of interactive elements
The new issue of integrating test practices with NOC practices isn't the only change driving test equipment usage for network operators.
For in-service testing in the field, it is often possible to provide the contextual coordination needed to interpret higher service-layer exchanges in a dialog with the NOC. This is particularly true because field testing is limited to a single point (where the technician is connected); and the exchanges that occur there, even in a complex service-layer relationship, are more easily predicted and validated. Even here, however, we can see the need to improve testing-to-NOC coordination.
For lab conformance and load testing, meaningful complex service-layer activity testing will demand multiple points of monitoring and, sometimes, even injecting multiple test sequence points. In addition, injecting captured or canned message sequences -- a normal behavior in today's test systems -- will often not work in complex services because the message contents require coordination and synchronization. Otherwise, they create protocol errors that will disrupt operations. Here, future network performance testing requirements will include not only multipoint synchronized monitoring and message injection but also time-stamping and coordination of the monitored results and collection of multipoint monitoring output for central validation.
"Agents," or wizards that can generate meaningful data for complex multi-protocol service-layer relationships, will also be essential, particularly when validating new equipment, new software and new services.
Network performance testing has always been important, but often its value has been recognized only by a few CTO staff or operations technical specialists. With the changes in service focus and the need to improve network and service reliability and availability, we can expect network performance testing to be strategic and even critical to a much wider range of network operator personnel and management.
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About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his SearchTelecom.com networking blog Uncommon Wisdom.