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With the dawning of cloud technologies and virtual operating systems the days of running a lab network in parallel to production are all but over. I’m old enough to remember trying to scrounge up old network hardware to work through a network design concept, only to find out I didn’t have enough of the right type of equipment. Maybe the version of IOS I needed wouldn’t run on the physical platform. Maybe features weren’t compatible. Maybe I didn’t even have enough power or cooling to cable the thing up.

I need some Tylenol just thinking about those days!

With Tesuto, you won’t need to do any of that. Tesuto is a cloud-based network emulation service where you may test your automation code, new network architecture, or network changes prior to production roll out. On the sales engineering side of the house, the opportunity to show customers product integration is a major plus and could help you turn leads into sales. On the enterprise side, you can gain confidence with your production change plan. Tesuto has basically taken the GNS3, Cisco VIRL, and EVE-NG idea and made it better by putting it in the cloud and managing resource allocation.

License and Registration, Please.

When I first started to kick the tires on the Tesuto-cloud after Network Field Day 21, I had a little bit of trouble. It wasn’t technical per se, rather there seemed to be some back end communication problems. The delegates to #NFD21 were given a 100-hr voucher to try the service. I got a little late start and didn’t redeem it quickly enough. Reaching out to Tesuto support resolved that issue very quickly.

The second issue was my own confusion regarding the licensing. As you enable the vendors available for your lab, you have to agree to the specific vendor/Tesuto EULA. After acquiring the appropriate vendor image, you upload it to your account. In my mind if a) I agree to the Tesuto EULA, and b) can download the vendor image I should be able to fire up my lab with no other issues. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case; uploaded code requires activation by Tesuto staff. Another quick interaction with support and everything was approved for me to finish my lab setup. I’m not certain why the support interaction is necessary, but for now, I’ll blame the lawyers!

Tesuto isn’t offering this service for free. Building your own on-premises lab requires licenses, hardware, a virtual lab environment, and you still have to scrounge together servers with significant resources to operate complex labs. That’s a cost I imagine most organizations don’t consider.

Scheduling, an important feature

In my role as network engineer I was running a routing protocol redesign for our International data center and corporate campus locations. Setting up ten Nexus 9000’s, five IOS-XE routers , and 4 minor switching images in a virtual environment on a Cisco UCS chassis topped all memory and CPUs. The UCS administrator couldn’t give me any more because there was none to give. I can remember walking into the data center and knew exactly which server was running my lab from the jet turbine sound! Running a complex lab in Testuto means you’re paying for their resources, not yours.

On the pay-as-you-go plan, it’s a nickle per node, per hour, up to ten nodes. They have some other items that are included with that price so check the service offering if you’re just testing a quick, low node-count idea. For something more complex—like redesigning your routing infrastructure like I mentioned—you’ll need to call the Tesuto sales team.

Since this is a cloud rollout pricing will need to be quoted and resources verified before the service is committed. Let’s be honest, if you’re buying something from a “cloud provider”, you’re really buying SoPT (a Service of Physical Things…just made that up to coin a phrase) and letting “them” manage the headache of data center operations. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, just don’t kid yourself into thinking “it’s the cloud and it takes care of itself.” Also, be very aware of this: access to your lab is charged by the hour. If you forget to turn off the spinning discs when you go home for the night you’re going to make the bean counters in your organization REALLY upset. A nice safety is Tesuto can let you set an operational window for your lab. If you forget, it’ll spin it down so as not to cause overages.

The Mocking Begins.

There are a couple of ways to deploy your lab environment. Tesuto has a well documented API if you like that sort of thing. This is great for all the DevOps folks who have a firm grasp of REST methods. Speaking personally, programming is not a strong skill I have even though I see the benefit/necessity/changing technical environment. Many times I just need to see a use case to get a vision for a completed task. For those of you in the same position, I reached out to Tesuto about the lack of white papers and use cases for lab setup. In true-to-form fashion, Tesuto was very quick to acknowledge the issue and even noted they were trying to develop real-time solutions for their customers at the expense of docs; they plan to deal with documentation a little later. I totally get that and applaud the honest answer…you don’t normally get that from a vendor.

Lab TopologyI spun up my lab the old school way. If you’ve ever used GNS3 or Cisco’s VIRL you’ll know what I mean; upload the code via SCP and connect interfaces within the lab GUI. My first lab was an Arista spine/leaf architecture. I just uploaded the vEOS, waited about 20 minutes for the code to be approved by Tesuto Support, and I was off to the races. It takes about 10 minutes to spin up a 5-node Arista switching lab once you have the device interfaces virtually connected.

One of the differences I saw between spinning the same lab up in EVE-NG is that with Tesuto I didn’t have to issue the zerotouch cancel command on initial bootup. Arista is ready for ZTP and needs you to disable it. Tesuto seems to disable these on startup, which tells me, if there are other vendors you’re working with that use a ZTP option at bootup (example, Cisco and POAP) it could change your provisioning method. When I first logged in, the Arista spine was ready to go.

In the coming months I’m wanting to try deploying a lab via the API, but to be fair, I’m pretty sure I won’t have the time to do it. Now, speaking of API, the great thing about the Tesuto product is you can spin up a production-mirror lab so you can test your automation code. Everything is reachable from the public Internet, and there are integrated security features you can configure to fit for your organization’s security posture.

Final Word.

Starting the labOver the last few weeks I’ve found myself writing more and more about lab environments so I can only surmise that this is a market issue gaining momentum around the technical industry. Perhaps you may be trying to advance your career with a vendor certification or interested in some vendor-specific testing. Many companies I’ve worked for have had a tough time spinning up labs that IT staff will use. Either there isn’t enough time while in the office, or, the hassle of firing up the VPN after finally getting home because of commuter traffic means you’re likely not carving out time to get on the corporate lab. But if it’s as easy as firing up an SSH session, that may be more palatable.

I really believe the Tesuto cloud lab will help make it easier for the vast IT groups to test their ideas prior to deployment. I normally take my laptop with me so I can study/develop over lunch. I hate firing up a local VM and loved using Tesuto in the cloud for my studies. On the corporate side, we all hate when vendors use the production as their R&D wing…let’s not be in that camp and use labs to test features!

I see how beneficial Tesuto can be as you roll out services to your customers. Many of IT’s production issues revolve around implementation rather than day-to-day operations. Eliminating problems or practicing a production rollout via a lab reduces blast radius during the implementation stage. If you’re looking for a way to mock up your environment for an enterprise deployment, I’d highly recommend Tesuto. The mileage may vary for your particular project or organization, but the benefits of the service are worth the investment.

Brian Gleason

I am a full-time Sr. Network Consultant for a leading Value Added Reseller. My career in the IT industry has stretched over 20 years primarily in the enterprise space; financial, biomedical, and high tech sectors.