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Using virtual lab management tools to stop developer, QA conflicts

Combining virtual machines and lab management software, like VMware Lab Manager and VMLogix LabManager, can put an end to developer, QA conflicts over where, if bugs reside in code. VMware and VMLogix execs describe the developer-QA/test email ping-pong matches caused by lack of common libraries and environments.

Ping pong was a term that kept coming up in conversations about application development and virtualization at VMworld 2009 in San Francisco this week. The references to table tennis were a metaphor for productivity-wasting methods of conveying bug or defect information between application development, testing and quality assurance (QA) teams.

In short, QA or testing finds a bug and emails the developer about it. "Then, the developer can't reproduce that bug on his or her system," said Sameer Dholakia, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based VMLogix. "The developer emails back saying the bug isn't there and asks what hardware and software configuration the tester used. QA or testing responds with the information, and the developer notices that his OS (operating system) is off by a particular patch. The developer calls the tester back to explain the difference, and the developer now has to go off and try to update his environment. And this match of dev-test/QA message ping-pong continues on and on."

When QA and development can't see the same defect, finding a cause can be very hard, said Melinda Wilken, senior director of product marketing for VMware Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., which makes VMware Lab Manager. "What's probably happened is that there's some quirky thing that's causing this, but it can't be found," Wilken said. These situations can escalate to a "war room mentality where everyone stops what they are doing and gets in a whirlwind mode to try to find that dang bug."

What often happens then, said Dholakia, is a finger-pointing situation where QA has to prove something is wrong.

That non-productive scenario is eliminated when a virtual lab manager is used, according to Rob Zylowski, director of virtualization services for GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a Framingham, Mass.-based IT consulting firm. "If you are testing and suddenly find an error, the virtual lab manager can take snapshots of the system. It can capture the state of the system at that point in time." So there's no time lost by the developer or testing/QA person trying to replicate the environment and the error. This is a huge benefit when doing regression testing, in particular.

VMware Lab Manager and VMLogix LabManager 3.8 have snapshot capabilities than can eliminate defect reproduction problems.

For example, with VMLogix LabManager, the tester would, upon finding a bug, simply hit a button called "Snapshot and Share." This tells LabManager to take a snapshot of each of the virtual machines in the virtual testing environment -- memory and state included -- and saves it in an image library. The LabManager system can then notify another user (e.g., the developer) not only that a defect has been found, but can include a link to the snapshot.

"They no longer have to waste time trying to reproduce the environment and bug," said Dholakia.

When working in VMware Lab Manager, all the build information resides in a centralized library. "The developer sends the build over to QA, who checks it out of the library and works on it," said Wilken. "If he runs into an error, he can capture that error in state and check it into the library in specified configuration." QA puts in a note to the developer about what happened. That email has a live link back to the library entry. The developer clicks on it and sees the exact configuration in the exact state as when the QA person found the error. Then, the developer can immediately troubleshoot and find out what is wrong.

Virtual machine technologies can provide the same configurations, the same environments to all team members. The virtual lab manager piece provides a common management and tracking interface. Together, those technologies can eliminate back-and-forth emails and time spent in a non-productive fashion.

With a virtual lab management system, Zylowski said, the developer, QA and test teams are all literally on the same page.

For more VMworld news, views, videos and observations, read news on VMLogix LabManager 3.8's new VMware vSphere 4 and Microsoft Hyper-V R2 support; the Sofware Quality Insights blog posts and's VMworld coverage roundup.

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