VMWare, an important part of your Quality Assurance plan

Consider a situation when you deploy a seemingly harmless software package to your network without testing and therefore without fully knowing the implications of your actions. I was recently involved in just this situation when a corporate IT network fell over, resulting in a day's lost work. A small software upgrade package was pushed to production without proper testing, wreaking havoc on other deployed applications.

Thankfully, IT was not a crucial part of the day-to-day operation of the company, but what if the company relied on their IT infrastructure to be up, 24/7? This is the perfect situation when a test environment comes into play, where you can test changes and know what to expect well before letting a change go into production.

Depending on your needs and the overall size of your company, your IT budget and your network, access to resources will affect how you approach testing. Testing is a critical part of any Quality Assurance plan and is often considered to be in the realm of the large corporate. Nevertheless, smaller companies can still implement test environments, just like the larger corporates, without making a massive dent in their IT budget. Your test network need not be particularly large, nor run on very powerful hardware. The secret is VMWare Server, a software package akin to Microsoft's Virtual PC or Virtual Server, but with a lot more scope for expansion. I run my own personal test environment in VMWare, and can easily run a few instances of virtualised servers on my reasonably powerful desktop workstation (dual core hardware-assisted virtualisation-capable CPU, and 4GB RAM)

In the situation I described earlier, running a test network in VMWare would have been the key to preventing a potential disaster. By deploying the package initially to the test network, then booting a test workstation, it would immediately have been apparent that the deployed software package was going to wreak havoc. It would therefore not been pushed to production until a workaround was found or the product patched, which would have saved hours of lost business time.

VMWare has many applications where you might normally reach for "another box". You could consider using VMWare next time you are evaluating versions of Windows Vista, Server 2008 and Exchange, published by Microsoft, to run your test-bed on. Or, test your application on multiple platforms using the free downloads and trial editions. Most importantly, it also protects the machine configuration you are currently running on. It works, and is a very easy, efficient way to test things out.

Testing is a critical component of any successful release or upgrade. While no test environment is 100% foolproof, but with planning and VMWare you can make it so it is a very, very close replica.

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