Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has become one of the first organisations to use a new facility for evaluating networking products in a virtual environment before implementing them in the field.
The facility is a lab set up by Knowledge Group, a UK-based firm specialising in network integration and services. It is situated at the company's offices in Bristol.
Dudley Council (www.dudley.gov.uk) used the lab to test kit intended for a new ISDN network, based mainly on Cisco hardware, as part of a #150,000 contract.
"It was very important for us to test equipment before roll-out, because as a council we have limited finances, and we want to know that what we're paying for works," explained Adrian Turner, networks officer at Dudley.
"It's hard to tell if this has saved money, but it's certainly saved us a lot of time working on installing the network."
The testing facility is a free service to Knowledge Group customers.
Nigel Beresford, managing director of Knowledge Group, said: "This lab allows us to put network systems through a rigorous evaluation process that is similar to a genuine onsite environment."
The lab is able to test networking equipment and scenarios from combinations of kit from most major vendors. In this it differs from similar labs on vendors' sites, because "manufacturers often only test the interoperability of their own products," according to Beresford.
As well as testing systems prior to implementation, users can replicate entire networks and test for interoperability. For companies with existing networks, faults encountered in the field can be replicated and analysed in the lab for troubleshooting. The facility also enables firms to train internal engineers, channel partners and customers in a live environment.
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