Spirent – Bringing The Tests To You

Day two of Network Field Day 4 kicked off with a visit to Spirent.  I was fairly impressed with their testing setup the last time and I wanted to see what new tricks they had in store for us this time around.  After a quick breakfast, we settled in for our first session.  Although this one wasn’t broadcast, we did get permission to talk about what they were showing us.  One of the issues that Spirent has with their setup is that it’s just so…huge.  While it is very accurate and can take just about everything you can throw at it, it’s not exactly the most convenient thing to haul around when you need to test something.  To that end, Spirent is looking a releasing a more compact unit that’s more in line with the needs of an enterprise testing setup.  The unit we saw was about the size of a desktop computer case, but Spirent says the final goal is to have a unit that’s about 1U in size and can be placed in a rack.  That way, you can grab the tester when you need to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it’s not the network (or the WAN connection or anything else Spirent can test).  Do remember that having a smaller version of the until does come with a compromise or two.  The most apparent one is the reduction in testing resolution from the nanseconds of the big Spirent setup down to a few milliseconds on the enterprise version.  Truth be told, you probably don’t need the nanosecond resolution of something like a QFabric test when you’re just trying to test an enterprise network.  If a few milliseconds really does matter, then maybe you need to look into the bigger unit.  One of the other things that interested me about their new unit was the interface of the software itself.  Spirent has gone all out to make sure that it’s easy to start a test and set the parameters.  The metaphor that they are using is that of a media player.  You can drag sliders to vary the size and number of packets as well as setting other parameters.  When you’re ready to go, just press the oversized Play button and your test kicks off and runs until completion.  You’ll see a bit of this interface in a bit.

When we picked up the stream again, I got a bit excited.  Spirent has taken everything they know about testing and applied it to some interesting use cases.  No one can deny that we’ve entered a new phase of cyber warfare.  First, it was the kids doing thing for fun and reputation.  Then it was the career bad guys doing it for money.  Now we find ourselves dealing with advanced malware threats and state-sposored cyberterrorism.  After some discussion about social engineering and other topics, we started talking about Spirent applying their testing methodologies to find vulnerabilities and alert you to them before they can be exploited.  Spirent has a huge library of thousands of tests that can be run against a multitude of applications on just about any OS platform, from Windows to iOS.

It’s demo time again!  Spirent fired up a demo environment running Linux and exploited a Jabber server with a bunch of attack traffic.  You can tell that this was a fairly thorough attack, as they went through several iterations before they finally found a vector.  Other tools that I’ve used just attack known holes and give up after one or two iterations.  Spirent has created a tool that can not only iterate on different surfaces, but you can also craft your own tests to take advantage of zero-day exploits in the wild.  That makes me a little more confident with their results, as they don’t quit until the test is finished.

Last up was Ameya Barvé with an overview of the new iTest Lab Optimizer. According to Ameya, one of pains of lab operations involves the lack of automation.  You never know who’s in the lab or who’s reconfigured it to support some wacky sidebar case.  iTest Lab Optimizer takes care of many of these problems by creating a system for lab reservation and topology creation.  By utilizing a layer 1 switch to interconnect the devices in the lab, you can use iTest to overlay the lab topology on top of it on the fly.  I can see the allure of having this kind of capability in a larger lab environment, and should my lab ever grow to the point where it’s not a collection of cables assembled on a side table in my office, I’m sure having a software program like this would be a great boon to speed test setup and execution.

If you’d like to learn more about Spirent, you can check out their website over at http://www.spirent.com.  You can also follow them on Twitter as @Spirent.  You can find a link to the Spirent slide decks at http://www.slideshare.net/spirent.


Tom’s Take

Spirent has some amazing testing gear.  I’ve said as much previously.  What they’ve done since our last meeting is take what they have and shrink it down to the point where it makes cost-effective sense to the rest of the world not needing to test high-end network gear day in and day out.  The newer portable testing suite should appeal those people in the data center or service provider area that have SLAs that need to be met or constantly find themselves getting into arguments over performance numbers.  The rest of their presentation seemed to be an outgrowth of their testing strategies.  For instance, the zero-day cyberwarfare testing suite shows that they can apply the methodology of executing in-depth tests to a different market that requires a specific kind of results.  That shows me that someone inside Spirent is thinking outside the small little niche.  The new iTest software shows me that Spirent is trying to recognize a pain point that many of us weren’t sure could even be addressed.  It also tells me that Spirent isn’t just a one-trick pony and that we should expect to see more good things from them in the near future.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Spirent was a sponsor of Network Field Day 4.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 4.  In addition, they provided me with a gift bag containing a coffee mug, a pen, and a golfing tool of some sort. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.

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