For many engineers, Spirent equipment is the stuff of legends. The packet generators and network test environments were expensive enough to come with a human to drive them. Deployments in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars were not uncommon and rarely seen outside of Vendors or Service providers.
This shift of focus from vendors to end users has brought Spirent to NFD4 with a push into the enterprise/end-user market. Enterprise markets require a penetration that requires solid traction and proven results that reside in a budget that is justifiable.
AXON – Portable Warp Displacement generator
Spirent’s AXON platform addresses the enterprise testing requirements. Marketed as a small, affordable, end user friendly test platform, it is a welcomed change of pass without a doubt. Testing Layer 2 all the way to Layer 7 can provide detailed information in one place opposed to using a string of home-brew tools. By using a new platform that uses merchant silicon and Intel hardware the cost becomes more reasonable. That R&D overhead shrinks.
There are two ways to use the AXON platform. Hardware or VM. The hardware platform is a portable test box that contains 2 x 10gb and multiple 1gb NICs. Accurate down to the nanosecond (I believe 10 ns), this portable packet warp generator is able to spin up and test with accuracy and throughput. The alternative is the VM image. This would allow sping up and deployment centrally and allow spin up and down as required. Very clever, although initially a few issues had to be addressed.
Normally timing has been an issue with Virtual Machines. It generally was not accurate and it would lose precision. Loss of timing precision in an environment where events happen on a millisecond basis would be bad. By leveraging new CPU architecture and procedures, Spirent has been able to get the timing accurate and stable into the milliseconds. For most users and test scenarios this is acceptable. If you require an accurate time lower than milliseconds then hardware is for you.
There was talk of running new NIC’s that actually had the VM software on them allowing you to carry a test machine in your pocket. I am not sure where this got to but it made me think.
Generating the Warp
The platform used to generate traffic was intuitive and simple. Adorning the tablet-friendly HTML5 interface were sliders and knobs. These allowed to adjust testing throughput, TCP/IP settings, source and destination IP, and session parameters. The ability to save scans is two-fold. The fact that reliable and repeatable tests can be performed ensures consistency The fact that scans can be saved allows Spirents Studio Cloud services to shine.
Studio Cloud allows sharing widgets and test scenarios. By building a community based repository, you could create a scan that may benefit others in the community. That crafty firewall scan that tests hairpin traffic combined with application filters allows you to test your rule sets but also may be handy for someone else.
I think I threw out the comment “Shutup and take my money” during the presentation. That is how I feel with this device. It addresses a need for me at least where application and load testing is important but the spend has never been justified. Now it is a bit more affordable we can look at it with a serious intent to acquire. The fact that I can on paper say, Yes we can sustain x Gbps, y Sessions, and SLA of z milliseconds concurrently with confidence makes me smile.
Please see my disclaimer post. Spirent gave NFD delegates a breakfast on arrival (my first american pastries!), a mug, and a golfing divet fixer. I was not required to write a post at all and nor my opinion be biased.