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Enterprise application testing requires more integrated solutions

March 9, 1999
Web posted at: 10:23 a.m. EST (1523 GMT)

by Maggie Biggs


(IDG) -- Solid design, good coding practices, thorough debugging, and adequate documentation are important aspects of any successful software project. One other equally crucial component in the development life cycle is the completion of comprehensive testing prior to rollout. Increasingly, software testing has become harder to carry out -- not for lack of tools, but because of the changes in our computing environments, which now contain components on disparate platforms that may often be difficult to test.

Generally speaking, software quality has declined during the past several years. Part of this decline can be attributed to shortened project cycles. However, the industry's move to distributed computing and multiple computing paradigms have also played a significant role. Performing thorough software testing in these complex settings has become difficult, if not impossible, for many sites.

It can certainly seem an insurmountable task to test applications across distributed environments that often incorporate disparate clients, server platforms, and host systems; multiple data sources; external entities; and more.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of testing tools on the market today. But how well do these tools stack up against the challenges present in the application settings that we currently have? And how many of these tools adequately address both IT- and business-analyst testing functions?

Currently, there are several good testing solutions available that address particular aspects of testing, and these solutions have been enhanced to support both IT testers and business analysts. Shortened project cycles have increased the need for a shared set of testing duties between the IT department and the various other business units. Additionally, testing-tool vendors have done a good job of accommodating the needs of both groups. Thus, an expanded testing effort can take place in a shorter time frame.

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However, there still remains a gap between the tools available and the application settings we have today. Namely, testing tools are in large part still geared toward providing support for a single platform or a single computing paradigm.

For example, Mercury Interactive provides separate tools to support Windows, Unix, and Web application testing. Likewise, Rational Software's product line also contains separate products that focus on particular platforms or architectures.

Companies such as Segue Software and Sun Microsystems provide application-testing solutions for Java. Other companies, such as Seapine Software, sport tools to support Windows and Macintosh application testing. Mortice Kern offers AS/400 testing tools. And there are many more.

All of these tools are promising, and they offer a good mechanism for testing individual portions of an application environment. However, the applications that exist today in a typical IT environment may include both client/server and Web architectures, and they often span multiple platforms, including Linux, Macintosh, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Windows, AS/400, and S/390, among others.

Furthermore, distributed applications may also touch middle-tier platforms and a multitude of back-end data sources, enterprise applications, and transaction systems. Another complication is the fact that distributed applications are moving beyond corporate walls, so many applications now incorporate external components, especially in electronic-commerce settings.

So what's the answer?

What can IT sites do today to accommodate application testing in mixed settings? Unfortunately, they can only purchase multiple tools and work closely with external business partners to ensure thorough testing prior to deployment. This can lead to a rather fractured testing methodology.

What can testing-tool vendors do to address the issue of application testing at distributed sites with mixed platforms and paradigms? The tool vendors can provide customers with a single testing-tool framework to flexibly plug in varied types of application tests, which can support multiple platforms, paradigms, data sources, and external entities, as needed.

Many IT sites have spent the past several months involved in testing applications for year-2000 compliance. Perhaps this most recent emphasis on testing will also make us pause to examine how we test applications in general, and to identify where we can improve the process.

Application testing is only one facet of the development life cycle, but it is certainly a crucial component. Deployment without thorough testing can spell disaster.

How would you rate the tools and methods you currently use to test your applications? Do you have other ideas about how software testing can be improved? Write to me.

Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs evaluates application development and database technologies for the InfoWorld Test Center. Send her e-mail at

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Mercury Interactive
Rational Software
Segue Software
Sun Microsystems
Seapine Software

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