We all know the inconvenience of being without electricity even a few minutes in our homes. The pain can be even more acute in our businesses — every minute in the dark is dollars out the door. Now, imagine the pressure on an electricity provider that must keep services flowing to 1.3 million metered gas and electricity customers, 24-7.
The IT folks at AusNet Services, the largest energy business in the Australian state of Victoria, face that responsibility every day. Outages among their complex net of integrated systems, including SAP, are simply not an option. There’s too much at stake to roll software updates out into production untested. (That doesn’t stop a lot of other companies from trying. Like this one. Or this one. Ask either if they’d make that mistake again.)
With so much responsibility, how does AusNet conduct routine upgrades without disrupting – or even remotely threatening – service to customers? By using virtualized services (in this case, CA Service Virtualization) to create simulated environments where they can perform rigorous integration tests before any software upgrade goes into a production environment.
Mark Dabal, who leads AusNet’s Enterprise Application Integration, Data Warehousing & Business Intelligence Team, says Service Virtualization has enabled automated testing that is far more comprehensive – and totally safe. He says AusNet used SV to create dynamic, livelike versions of six proprietary systems back in April 2015. That includes systems for managing energy meters, data management and other key operational tools.
Dabal’s uses CA Service Virtualization in a software-as-a-service form – basically, the software is hosted on remote servers instead of on-site – through an IT consultant.
Now that interdependencies are effectively eliminated, engineers can do unlimited numbers of tests. They’re also free to create their own test cases (for example, placing the code under extraordinary demand) and to test sooner in development (the so-called shift-left that has been shown to speed development while driving down costs). As a result, the volume and impact of defects is way down.
One good example that showed concrete benefits to AusNet: The company needed a suite of new integrations in order to supply accurate energy data and meet regulatory requirements. With SV, the team met all its deadlines. “A team of three was able to build 450 test cases that can now be automatically executed in just a few hours, which would usually have taken a much larger team several days,” he says.
Now, routine tests are easy, more frequent and more effective. That means faster development for AusNet, cost savings and smoother rollouts. And, customers can rest easy knowing the energy will be there when they need it.
Hundreds of software tests, overnight
“We can now run hundreds of tests overnight, which means better quality code and fewer system issues,” Dabal says. “We must keep our integrated IT platform up to date with the latest upgrades to safeguard performance and security, but we need to ensure that any changes won’t impact the business.”
He continued, “If our SAP system stopped working, the entire business would be affected, including our ability to comply with certain industry regulations. The ability to rigorously test every change is vital, but our existing manual processes were time-consuming and prone to human error.”
Next up: A major software upgrade for AusNet. But Dabal says he’s not worried. “With the CA Technologies solution supporting testing, we can remove cost, complexity and risk to ensure the project is completed to budget and deadline.”