2006 Campus Technology Innovators: QA

2006 Campus Technology Innovators

TECHNOLOGY AREA: QA
Innovator: Wayne State University

 


 

2006 CT Innovators: Wayne State University

CAMP: WSU’S quality-assurance processes
are saving the school hundreds of thousands
of dollars a year.

Challenge Met

Today’s students and faculty routinely expect to access integrated online systems via the web 24/7; such self-service systems have become a competitive differentiator. Realizing that as early as seven years ago, Wayne State University’s (MI) CIO John Camp began working toward cost-effective methods to consistently ensure the overall availability, performance, function, and integrity of the university’s major applications.

“Most colleges and universities today don’t adequately test changes to their systems before they are implemented,” Camp says. To address that, WSU wanted to reduce money and time spent testing software, and to improve end-to-end testing of major applications. In addition, once systems moved into production, Camp and his team wanted the ability to monitor them remotely.

WSU (which serves 33,000 students in 11 schools and colleges as Michigan’s only urban research university) now saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through an ever-growing library of sophisticated, automated quality-assurance software and practices. For example, the university estimates it used to spend about $275,000 a year testing one major software release, along with other minor releases. Automated testing saves nearly 85 percent of that cost.

The university’s holistic approach to testing, highly unusual in higher ed, involves both pre-production load, functional and integrity testing, and pre- and post-production service monitoring from customer locations.

How They Did It

To meet the challenge of improving testing systems while reducing time and cost, Camp and his team selected quality-assurance and -testing products from Compuware. Using those products, QA staff document all major functions of each application, identify the mix of transactions to validate performance, and write reliable, repeatable automated scripts that provide regression results for analysis and testing.

The university’s QA department also has developed procedures to identify and document functional processes in WSU’s core applications, which include SunGard’s Banner and Luminis suites, Cognos’ reporting environment, and Blackboard’s Academic Suite.

In order to simulate transactions within the university’s core applications and report back on problems, WSU deploys software “robots” (from Compuware’s Vantage products) in four strategic locations. The robots monitor network traffic, application use, and latency 24/7, and alert IT support personnel if services aren’t available or performance lags.

For further performance monitoring, the university employs 70 counters to monitor each of the 100-plus data center servers (Unix and Windows) for tasks such as file space, paging, cache, and CPU utilization.The Vantage software issues alerts when any of the counters exceed acceptable thresholds.

Along with Compuware, Camp says, both Sun Microsystems and SunGard Higher Education were important partners in the project. Because Sun equipment runs many of WSU’s enterprise applications, WSU and Sun worked together to design, test, and optimize how SunGard applications run on Sun’s server and storage products.

Next Steps

Since there are thousands of processes to be tested across all of the university’s applications, developing a library of test scripts for each application is a multi-year project. For now, WSU plans to: complete test documentation and scripting for all of its Sun- Gard and Luminis suites and integrated applications, including Blackboard; expand performance monitoring on the school’s web pages, including the various hubs that interconnect the campus and its extension centers; and extend its QA approach to other areas, such as incident and problem handling, change management, and disaster recovery.

WSU is also developing a business plan for a non-profit corporation (owned by colleges and universities) that will provide a testing service for members.

Advice

Choosing the right vendor partner is critical. Camp says that WSU’s selection of Compuware as a tools vendor brought the support and commitment needed in numerous ways, including initial product training, numerous no-cost “lunch and learn” sessions for staff, help with coding, review of testing plans, and excellent customer service overall.

comments powered by Disqus