FAQ: Virtual testing and development environments

A virtual testing and development environment lets you test OSes and applications before deployment. You can even build a virtual test lab at home.

A virtual testing environment is the perfect place to test applications, operating systems and hardware before you place them into production -- whether it’s virtualized or not.

Virtual testing environments provide a safe, efficient and cost-effective way to test apps and other services because they are segregated from production and often use free, simple virtualization tools. You can test everything from server configurations to resource allocation to storage.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also build a virtual test lab at home or in the office, as many virtualization enthusiasts do. Experimenting in a lab is a great way to improve your skills and try new tools. Home virtual testing environments also provide a safe place to tinker outside of production.

With the answers to these frequently asked questions about virtualization test environments, you’ll learn how to build a virtual test lab, how virtual testing can improve server virtualization deployments and how to delve into a VMware lab.

How can I use a virtual test lab for software testing?

Testing software can be an expensive and complex endeavor, but a virtual testing environment makes it simpler and less costly by reducing hardware. You can make a virtual test lab as large or small as you want. It could even be a single laptop running VMware Workstation, for example. To test applications, you can emulate different computers with different OSes on a single physical server. You can also test them on various platforms and using different configurations.

If you network numerous virtual machines (VMs) together and keep them separate from production, you may not even need firewalls or antivirus software -- which will also reduce virtual testing costs.

Should I use clustering in a virtual testing environment?

For some virtual testing environments, a little bit of downtime is no big deal. But if you’re testing important workloads, you probably require high availability. You can increase availability by creating a virtual server cluster in your virtualization test lab. That way, you can move VMs to other hosts when patching or rebooting a server. But remember, building a server cluster can incur extra costs if you need more hardware, licenses or shared storage. If you can stand for some downtime in your virtual test lab, you could simply keep spare identical hardware in case of host problems.

Can I run test servers and production servers on the same host?

This one is tricky. Some experts say you should never colocate virtual testing and production servers, because that increases security risks and resource-sharing issues. There is a logical isolation between VMs on a host, but it may not be enough to protect production VMs from problems that arise with test VMs. Plus, separating the virtual test lab makes it easier to manage test VMs and build clusters.

On the other hand, if you properly configure server colocation, this can be a cost-effective way to create a virtual testing environment. You can also set rules to separate production and nonproduction VMs at the hypervisor level.

What are some challenges I’ll face with virtual testing?

Although a virtual testing environment brings many benefits, it can also be difficult to manage if you have a lot of VMs and widespread hardware. When you virtualize a test environment, you need to make sure you have virtual testing management tools that integrate with your existing infrastructure. If you need to connect the virtual test lab with remote offices, that’s another challenge. You may also have to upgrade hardware to work with a virtual testing environment. Luckily, there are a variety of automation and management tools out there that make these processes easier.

What are some good tools for virtual testing environments?

Some common virtualization deployment and management tools are well-suited for non-critical infrastructures such as virtual test labs. Oracle VM VirtualBox 4, for instance, is a hosted, lightweight hypervisor that supports many OSes and is great for virtual testing environments because it’s free. VMware vCloud Director is slowly replacing VMware Lab Manager, another product that organized and automated virtual testing workloads. And VMware Workstation is a popular tool for virtualization test labs, because users can run Windows and Linux VMs directly on their desktops.

How do I build a VMware lab for virtual testing?

Building a virtual test lab with VMware technology helps you improve your skills and test applications. You can use hosted hypervisors such as VMware Server or Workstation to create a VMware lab, and you can run ESX or ESXi as guest VMs on a home computer while still using it for others tasks. Creating a virtual test lab takes time and money, but you’ll benefit from segmenting a VMware lab from your work production environment.

What is VMware Labs, and how does it facilitate virtual testing?

VMware Labs is the company’s online test and development site, where VMware engineers publish virtual testing projects called flings for users to check out. Onyx, for example, monitors your vCenter activity and turns your selections into PowerCLI code. VCenter Mobile Access is a virtual appliance that provides a webpage-like interface for a mobile phone. And a fling called XVP Manager lets vCenter manage Microsoft Hyper-V hosts and VMs. Some of VMware’s flings may turn into real products or features, so it’s worth tinkering with these virtual test lab offerings.

More on virtual testing environments

This was first published in August 2011

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