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Virtual environments ease software development, testing

Skytap's Virtual Lab environment enables two management software makers to cost-effectively develop and test software, as well as train customers how to use the software.

Companies that develop software have the challenge of first creating quality software and then training users how to work the software. VDIworks Inc. and ClearCube Technology found a way to overcome those challenges using Skytap's cloud-based Virtual Lab platform.

Skytap's ability to deliver a virtual infrastructure in a cloud eliminates the need to build out expensive and extensive environments.
Theresa Lanowitz

Shannon Martin, manager of technical training at both VDIworks and ClearCube, said the development teams at the companies, which produce management software, use Skytap to test the software. Within 10 minutes she can set up a virtual lab, selecting what she wants in the environment.

"I can put in a server machine, an XP machine, a Linux machine, a Vista machine, and they are all in a contained lab if I want to test in those environments," she said. "I don't have to set up entire machines, and if I screw up, I can wipe it out.

Scott Roza, CEO of Skytap, pointed out how the virtual environment scales up and down easily based on need.

"It's complete lab management that's accessible with just a browser," he said. "And with many companies sharing outside of their organizations, the fact that it's browser-based is valuable."

In addition to flexibility, cost plays a significant role for Skytap customers, said Ian Knox, director of product management at Skytap.

"When talking to testers we hear them say they don't have enough hardware and that they have trouble reproducing bugs and providing documentation," he said. "A cloud-based solution solves the problem of not having enough hardware and enables collaboration between testers and developers."

Martin agreed with Knox, saying she doesn't have to worry about hardware or software. "It's a much lower entry cost, and it's pay as you go," she said.

Theresa Lanowitz, founder of analyst firm voke, also pointed out the cost savings of using such a virtual environment.

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"Skytap's ability to deliver a virtual infrastructure in a cloud eliminates the need to build out expensive and extensive environments," she said. "This ability solves a multitude of problems such as giving testers access to environments as close to production as possible. The ROI is realized quickly, and the barrier and risk of adoption is low."

In terms of testers and developers working together, Martin said Skytap gives testers the ability to suspend what they're doing, "snapshot" it, and send it to a developer to run and fix the bug.

"We can say, 'Here's a bug we ran into,' and recreate it on the screen so they can see what's going on," she said.

Martin also praised Skytap's clean interface and how easy it is to use the solution.

"It's not difficult to understand. It's intuitive," she said. "Everyone in our office uses it for various aspects, and they all learned how to use it quickly. No one has come back and said, 'Now, how do you do that?' "

Virtual labs for training users
Training customers how to use software has become more challenging for companies with customers located in different parts of the country -- or the world.

"In the past we would have a five-day class where students had to come to our offices to get training on the hardware and the software," Martin said. "And because the software changes quite a bit and travel is getting more expensive, we wanted to look for a way to do this in a virtual environment."

Using the virtual training, Martin said students can get the instruction sets and then go into the virtual lab and explore and try everything out on their time and as quickly or as slowly as they want.

Using the same technology software developers and testers use, instructors can communicate with students about problems they might be having. "We can log directly into their session and see what they're doing," Martin said.

New API connects virtual lab to in-house systems
This week Skytap introduced an API that allows customers to "blend" the virtual lab platform with their existing on-site IT resources, thereby enabling "hybrid cloud computing."

"Customers asked if we could make cloud computing a natural extension to what they have in-house," Knox said. "So now, with one click, they can connect back to the enterprise via a VPN."

An example of this is the connection between in-house developers and outsourced software testers," Roza said. "When a build drops, the entire test environment can be created automatically and be ready for testers the next day," he said.

Before customers had to manually set up a machine in the virtual lab as a VPN server and connect it back to the enterprise. "It was possible, but it was difficult," Knox said.

Easing entry to the cloud
Roza said people are trying to get started with cloud computing and says what Skytap offers is compelling for dynamic environments such as application development and testing.

"Companies are saying not just give me machines on demand, but also solve a particular pain point for me such as managing test environments. It's the solution on top of it all that helps them get over the barrier to entry," he said.

Not only are companies getting going with cloud computing using Skytap, added Knox, but "we're also giving them functionality they probably don't have right now."

Lanowitz said Skytap's openness helps customers in this area: "Skytap's support of industry hypervisors is critical to the ability to create a cloud and use existing resources in an IT environment."

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