Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Simple Way to Use the Power of the Cloud for Test and Measurement

In today's economy technology companies have their resources spread across the globe. These global engineering resources have to work closely together throughout the design and testing life cycle of a product. One major challenge these global engineering teams face is sharing real test data access or control of testing resources across thousands of miles and country borders. In this blog post we will look at a simple but secure example of how to use cloud computing or the cloud to share test data and test resource control across the globe.

Cloud computing refers to using hardware and software computing resources in a computer network, such as the internet, for computation and storage, instead of just on a local computer. I am going to use the term “cloud” in this article to refer to computing assets on the internet that are provided by a third party such as Google or Amazon. The cloud can provide three main benefits to test:

1. Share test data across global engineering teams that can be accessed anywhere at any time without a company firewall getting in the way.

2. To serve as an always connected intermediary between your test software and your computing device. Imagine starting or stoping a test from your smart phone at the airport.

3. You can leverage the massive computing capability of the cloud for test applications that require a lot of computing power for post processing measurement data.

In this post we will focus on cloud benefits for bullets 1 and 2. For our cloud test example we will use a popular and free cloud service called "Dropbox." Dropbox allows you to set up a folder or file directory on your computing device, such as a PC or smart phone, that is sync'd to the cloud (Dropbox server) for backup. When you change or add a file on one computing device Dropbox will automatically sync the change or addition on any other computing device you have Dropbox installed. For security Dropbox is password protected, for more info on Dropbox click here.

For storing, sharing, and viewing test data Dropbox is a great tool for 3 main reasons:

  1. It allows you to securely back up your test data on the cloud 
  2. It allows you to easily share test data among geographically separated teams and companies, such as if you are using a CM that does not have access to your companies intranet.
  3. It allows you to access test data from almost anywhere securely without having to deal with a VPN, such as if you wanted to check the outcome of a test on your smart device at an airport in India.
Now getting the test data to Dropbox is fairly easy since all major software development environments like Labview, Matlab, or Visual Studio have easy to use APIs that allow you to write data to various file types such as an Excel Spreadsheet. The way we incorporate Dropbox into the test mix is by having our test program write to files that are located in a Dropbox folder. Then as long as the computer running your test program is connected to the internet Dropbox will automatically send your test data to the cloud and sync it to other computing devices sharing that same Dropbox account. Now the test data is safely back-upped and securely shared.

We can even go a step further and add certain types of remote control aspects to our test using Dropbox. If instead of just writing data to a file on Dropbox, we have our test program also read from a file we could could control our test from the cloud too! We could do something as simple as use a small section of the test data file for changing basic test settings to something as complex as using a scripting language to change entire test routines. 

As a proof of concept for this post I setup an example cloud test using Agilent's 34972A DAQ / Switch Unit, VEE programming language, and Dropbox. The example cloud test was created to simulate a long term DAQ type testing environment. It makes temperature, voltage, fan rotation, and irradiance measurements on a DUT. I added two simple settings controls to the test data Excel file that allow you to turn on or off a fan and heater on the DUT. The VEE program reads the settings from the Excel file periodically and uses the control features on the 34972A to change the DUT settings. Below is a screen shot of the excel spread sheet from my example cloud test program (click to enlarge). You can also get your own read-only version of my test data file using the Dropbox link I provided below.

To conclude Dropbox provides an easy to use secure way to leverage the power of the cloud to back up, access, and share test data easily and securely. We even looked at a way to use Dropbox and the cloud to control a test remotely from anywhere without the hassle of VPNs. If you have a test example where you use the power of the cloud I would love to hear about please share as a comment or shoot me an email.


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