The Virtualization Room

Feb 15 2008   2:54PM GMT

Stressing the value of virtual test environments

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

We all know that test environments are an important part of the quality process within IT. Unfortunately, we may not always follow through and provide good test environments. Virtualization changes all of that. This tip will share some of the strategies that I have found to truly enable robust test procedures beyond the basic testing on virtual machines.

100% Representative environment

With physical to virtual (P2V) conversion tools, I have been successful in creating test environments that are exact duplicates of what I am testing. A good example is a Windows server functioning as an Active Directory Services domain controller. Generally, I consider it a bad practice to perform a P2V conversion on a domain controller for continued use. But, in the case of a test environment, a P2V conversion is a great way to get a “copy” of your Active Directory domain into your test environment. For those of you wondering about the connectivity, of course the networking needs to be isolated from the live network.

With a P2V performed on a domain controller, I have had a great environment to test top-level security configurations, major group policy changes, and Active Directory schema updates. Outside of this type of test environment, these types of changes are usually difficult to simulate well. Sure we can create a development Active Directory domain, but it would not be fully representative of the live environment.

Performance testing

For many people that are new to virtualized environments, there may be some skepticism on virtual system performance. Providing test environments on virtual systems is nothing new, but our challenge is to make the test environments fully equivalent of the planned configuration. One strategy that can be implemented with VMware Infrastructure 3 is to have a small quantity of ESX hosts that are fully licensed and configured like the rest of the servers in the environment and refer to that as a development cluster or quality environment. In the development cluster, you can showcase high availability functionality, virtual machine migration, and fault tolerance to get the support of the business owners. Further, if the perfomance of the development environment is comparable to that of the live environment, the confidence of the virtual system is increased.

Caution factor

With this added functionality, it is also a little easier to cause issues with the live systems. With the example of having a fully-functional Windows domain controller, serious issues could result if that system is accidentally connected to the live network. Because of this risk, a good practice is to make virtual networks that are completely isolated. This goes beyond simply creating a test network within the virtual environment, but to configure the virtual host system to not permit any virtual machine connectivity to the live network. This makes file exchanges a little more difficult, but there are plenty of tools to assist in this space.

Readers, I invite you to share your virtualization test environment strategies. What has helped you deliver a better test procedure by using a virtual test environment?

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