Virtual lab automation
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Virtual Lab Automation refers to a category of software solutions to automate IT labs[clarification needed] using virtualization technology. Virtual Lab Automation (VLA) solutions are available as on-premises packaged software or as a cloud service.
- 1 History
- 2 Solutions
- 3 Capabilities
- 4 Vendors
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Akimbi pioneered the Virtual Lab Management market with its Slingshot product. VMware acquired Akimbi in 2006. VMLogix LabManager  was launched in 2006 as well; followed by a virtual lab solution on the Amazon public cloud  in 2009. Skytap and CloudShare (originally named IT Structures) introduced the first cloud-based virtual lab automation services in 2008.
voke research describes the evolution of virtual automation as follows. The first generation of solutions focused on Virtual Lab Management (VLM) only. The second generation expanded to the cloud. The third generation, lifecycle virtualization, covers VLM, virtual cloud platforms, service virtualization, defect virtualization, and device virtualization.
Virtual labs are used for sales, testing, demos, training, development and certification of software and hardware solutions. The main potential business benefits are reduced labor and hardware costs,faster response times to customers and channels, improved testing reliability and simple access to complex configurations.
Virtual lab management software is used in educational institutes and universities as well in orchestrating virtual training labs and in education IT.
A virtual lab automation solution typically includes the following capabilities:
Resource Pooling and Provisioning
Resource pooling enables processing power, storage and networking infrastructure to be shared between different teams and individuals, increasing utilization and availability of resources, and reducing costs. In conjunction with resource pooling, an orchestration and provisioning process allocates and releases resources as needed.
Complex Multi-Machine Configurations
Virtual labs are usually targeted to complex enterprise scenarios and support complex networking topologies such as multiple networks, bridging, routing and multi-tier apps. Some solutions enable integration of virtual machines, physical machines, network appliances and hypervisors to reflect current enterprise setups. Virtual machine images are the containers that enable operating systems and applications to be isolated from physical resources. A group of virtual or physical images or that define a complete system, including network and storage characteristics, is defined as a configuration. For instance, a configuration could consist of multiple Windows Vista client machines, an Oracle database server and a WebSphere application server. Configurations can be easily created by combining machines through a user interface. A configuration is a very useful concept for QA teams because it allows a whole system to be defined and isolated in a test environment. Virtual networking enables copies of the same environment to be run in parallel and the emulation of production environments during the test process.
A configuration library allows a team to manage and organize virtual images and configurations. Standard builds and images can be created and made available to development and QA teams to save hours of set-up time and environment configuration. Additionally, the library is used to store new configurations that are cloned or created as part of a test.
Life cycle Management
The ability to suspend a complete state of a multi-machine configuration and make a snapshot (a copy at a point in time) is a major benefit of virtualization. This is especially useful for application development teams because when a bug is found a configuration snapshot to be taken at the point of failure and a link to the configuration added to a defect report. Instead of a developer spending hours to reproduce the defect, he or she can restore the configuration and start debugging the issue within minutes. The ability to control the life cycle automatically is beneficial for web based service. For example, an environment can run for two hours and than automatically be archived to disk. This reduces the costs of running the environments and allows for multiple business scenarios.
Scheduling and Reservations
Many in-house virtual lab implementations have a fixed pool of resources for teams to share. Scheduling and reservation functionality allows the resolution of resource conflicts and test environments to be reserved ahead of time.
Reporting and Monitoring
Reporting modules allow users and administrators to manage usage and quotas and determine whether the system resources are being used optimally. Monitoring enables the system health to be diagnosed, including CPU utilization, storage performance and network usage.
Automating a test lab almost always involves integrating tools and test processes. An automation API enables teams to automatically create test environments as part of the build process and initiate automated test runs once a new build has been deployed. An automation API is typically made available through a web services interface. Some products like VMLogix LabManager and Citrix LabManager has inbuilt automation capabilities which would provide out of the automation inside the VMs. In such cases, you don't need to write scripts to call these automation APIs as it can be easily done through the GUI.
Security features include access and roles management, permissions and authentication. Some services allow dynamic roles assignment (for example, vendor and channel) or hierarchy (manager and employee). Since replicated guests have identical user names and passwords, those need customization for public services.
Remote Access and Visualization
Remote access to the system (for instance for an outsourced vendor) is usually managed through secure connections via encrypted protocols and virtual private networking. Access to identical copies of configurations over the internet requires a method to authenticate traffic at the application level while guarantees it is tunneled only to the relevant environment. Typically the lab environments are visualized over the web to demonstrated the multi-server topologies and logical relationship.
Administration features often include project creation, quota management, billing, auditing and customization.
Virtual lab automation solutions are available as on-premises packaged software or as a cloud service. VMware, Surgient and VMLogix launched in 2006 to provide packaged software solutions. IT Structures  and Skytap launched in 2008. and offer virtual lab automation as a cloud service. VMBed is another cloud-based service. Microsoft provides Virtual Lab automation capabilities through its Azure DevTest Labs
- "Akimbi makes virtual labs real".
- "VMware Advances Software Lifecycle Management".
- "VMLogix Launches LabManager in North America to Simplify the Software Development Lifecycle".
- "VMLogix Delivers Virtual Lab Automation to the Cloud".
- "voke Service Virtualization".
- "IT Structures Emerges to Take Center Stage at VMworld Europe".
- "Skytap reveals cloud-based services as it enters virtual lab market".
- "Azure DevTest Labs".