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.
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)
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.