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Starent Networks (Nasdaq: STAR), located in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, is a global provider of network infrastructure solutions (hardware and software) that enable mobile operators to deliver multimedia services to their subscribers i.e. Internet access, e-mail, streaming video, voice-over-IP, mobile TV, etc. Starent Networks' products are deployed by over 85 mobile operators in 35 countries.

The Need

Ongoing testing of Starent products is critical to ensure quality as new enhancements and new products work their way through the Starent R&D pipeline. After determining that no commercial software package was available to meet their needs, Starent Test Engineering developed an internal Microsoft Access database to capture, track and generate product test case data for a broad range of internal and external (customer) reporting needs.
Over a 3-year period, the functionality in the MS Access system expanded, the number of Test Engineers (the primary End Users) increased dramatically, and the amount of data in the system was rapidly approaching 1 Gigabyte. Limitations of MS Access were frequently evidenced, and Test Engineering was investing more and more of its time maintaining and supporting the MS Access application. In addition, part of Starent’s Test Engineering team is located in India, and remote access to the MS Access application via a secure VPN was placing additional stress on the system.
Starent was running a critical business function on a platform they were rapidly outgrowing, and business continuity was a primary concern. Starent needed a solution that had the performance, data store and remote, concurrent End User access and security required for testing of its market leading solutions. Equally important, they needed a solution that preserved their 3-year investment in the unique capabilities of its MS Access application design.

The Plan

Starent approached PCA to evaluate their situation, and recommend a sustainable solution to meeting their current and future growth needs. Following a two week professional engineering audit of Starent’s existing systems, PCA proposed a 3-phase approach: stabilize the system, replace it, then maintain and extend the new system as needed.
Phase I: Recognizing that Starent was looking to improve a critical business function, PCA recommended to immediately replace its existing back-end data store with SQL Server. While this would not fully address Starent’s remote Internet access needs, it would improve performance, application reliability, and increase data storage capacity. This step would improve Starent’s testing operations, while providing a migration path to a new system.
Within six months of contacting PCA, the Starent Test database was re-engineered in SQL Server, re-connected to the original MS Access front-end application, and re-deployed into Starent’s production environment. Starent’s Test Engineering team in India was able to conduct product testing operations in an improved environment.
The next step was to replace the MS Access front-end with a native Internet application. After several weeks of weighing the strengths and drawbacks of a browser-based approach, Starent elected to proceed with a Smart Client solution for two primary reasons: Smart Clients provided superior functionality and ease-of-use, and PCA could deliver a Smart Client solution at 2-3x lower investment, and with fewer risks vs. a browser-based solution.

The Solution

Phase II: Over a 3-month period, PCA redesigned the MS Access front-end application in .NET/Smart Client using a Rapid Prototype Design methodology — a process that provided both Starent and PCA with a simple, visual means to collaborate on and exploit opportunities to streamline the application, improve ease of use, and add new capabilities necessary to support more robust test engineering needs. Starent approved the fourth iteration of the new Prototype design, and PCA proceeded onto the project build-out phase.
Over the ensuing 9 months, PCA gathered the specifications necessary to drive development, built-out the application Prototype, and delivered an initial Beta application for Starent’s review and feedback. Weeks of intensive testing, feedback and refinements produced an application suitable for deployment into Starent’s rigorous test engineering production environment.
During this period, Starent’s testing staff in India continued to grow significantly, with additional users on different continents. In addition, Project Managers and Starent management located around the globe relied on the new system to support both internal and Starent customer-facing reporting needs. Starent elected to host the Smart Client solution internally, and a big advantage was the new system required little-to-no Starent I/T resources to support remote installations or updates to the new application — the traditional I/T burden associated with managing a globally-deployed business application was completely automated by the PCA Mobilizer™ Smart Client component.
Phase III: A principal element of the PCA plan was to support Starent’s ongoing needs to extend the new system over time — to add new capabilities necessary to support more rigorous test engineering methods, additional test cases necessary to support new multimedia product platforms, and more robust internal and external reporting needs.
Starent was bringing new multimedia platforms to market, and anticipated that extending the new system to support concurrent testing of multiple platforms represented a significant engineering effort. After consulting with PCA, Starent discovered that the new system was already designed for this capability, and with one very small change, Starent was able to support multiple platform testing.
However, as customers and test operations continued to grow, Starent’s internal and external reporting requirements began to diverge and get more specialized. Central to the ‘Support and Extend’ phase therefore was devising a way to support divergent reporting needs in a scalable, repeatable manner. Rather than designing and building new reports for Starent, PCA recommended to Starent they incorporate a highly-flexible Grid Reporting component within the Smart Client application. This approach would give users the ability to interactively slice-and-dice test case data any way they wished, and avoid the time and expense of building more and more specialized reports.
Starent approved PCA’s recommendation, and several months following initial deployment of the new system, PCA initiated the effort of replacing static views throughout the Smart Client application with dynamic grid controls. The result was a big win for Starent, with phone calls requesting one-off reporting needs dropping from ~20/week to nearly zero.
Starent Test Database Smart Client Solution
Click here to view the Starent Product Testing Smart Client application
PCA Client Testimonial
"By migrating to the Smart Client platform, Starent was able to retain our 3-year investment in the MS Access application design, overcome its deficiencies, and extend capabilities in a cost-effective manner. We are continually looking to deliver leading edge technology, and this requires leading edge testing capabilities. We have that.

The PCA-designed Smart Client solution is a big asset recognized both internally and externally by our customers. PCA did a great job!! Their team understood the business needs and had good ideas on how to convert requirements into application capabilities. PCA has been very productive in terms of fixing problems quickly and creating new features. Project management support has been effective, and really made a difference on this project.
Chuck Bodemann
Director of Test Engineering, Starent Networks
Results and Benefits
  • Enabled a powerful and flexible real-time database application serving the different needs of hundreds of Starent employees and OEM customers located across five continents.
  • Increased accuracy and frequency of on-demand reporting, while giving users improved flexibility in creating custom reports to meet their individual, evolving needs.
  • Provided management with a high degree of confidence that all parties exposed to a deal were working off the same/best set of information, with a complete contact history at hand.
  • Delivered effective User Interfaces for elegant presentation of data across a range of multimedia platforms (including remote wireless devices).
  • Gave Starent a sustainable competitive differentiator relative to other providers of mobile carrier technology.