The Internet of Things and Its Impact on Testing: An Interview with Shailesh Mangal

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Shailesh Mangal, the CTO of Zephyr, discusses the Internet of Things and how it changes the way we think about the devices we use. He also explains what sensory monitoring and smart devices are, and details how IoT devices have changed testing.

Josiah Renaudin: Today I’m joined by the CTO of Zephyr, Shailesh Mangal. We will be speaking on the Internet of Things and its impact on testing. Shailesh, thank you very much for joining us. First, can you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Shailesh Mangal: Sure, Josiah. Thank you very much for having me. Zephyr is a test management company built to help our customers manage their testing lifecycle, be it cloud-based, on the web, or now the latest kid on the block, the IoT—Internet of Things testing. Those are tailored to meet our customers' needs—to take care of a variety of such use cases and help our customers test these in the field as well as in the labs.

Josiah Renaudin: Could you explain your personal definition of the Internet of Things? It’s a hot-button topic now. A lot of people are discussing it, and a lot of people are trying to explain what it is. What is Zephyr's definition of IoT?

Shailesh Mangal: Right. You said it well; I think there are so many different definitions floating around. The way we see IoT, essentially, is it's interconnected, uniquely identifiable computing devices that can be embedded and connected using the existing Internet's infrastructure. The important part here is the word “connected,” and it's not communication just from person to machine or machine to person, but also from machine-to-machine communication.

Josiah Renaudin: You had mentioned earlier ... we had talked a little bit before the call about how you work with a lot of different teams when it comes to testing devices. How has the Internet of Things impacted the world of testing? Have we had to rethink the testing process in this realm, or has the Internet of Things simply enhanced our previous testing processes?

Shailesh Mangal: Well, it's both. That community is leveraging from the existing experience of testing, so you still have the test cases, the test scenarios, the test plan that’s still applicable within this world of testing. We still need testers who need to continue and move this style of testing forward. What is new in this world is the introduction of test subjects. The test subject could be an active person, for example, to monitor or test a health device. It could be an animal to test a bio-chip. It could be a driver to test a particular automobile. You do need a specific subject in this world.

The second thing is the rethinking of the collection of this variety of data—testing will have to be both subjective as well as objective. Not everything can be measured in certain cases, as the testing has to go into the wild, so to speak, where we need to create the test environments to test the devices and put them through the real-world use cases. This could mean very adverse environmental conditions, varied degree of temperatures, very high- and very low-pressure scenarios, underwater testing—things of that nature. What changes is the way data is collected and the large amounts of data being analyzed. Systems in the back end analyze this large amount of data and inform the connected devices to take the right steps accordingly. To sum it all up, essentially there are some parts of testing that remain the same, and a bunch of these things can be leveraged from what we have today. A bunch of this data or process we will need to be rethink, though, and build out from scratch.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. Can you touch just a bit on sensory monitoring and how the testers that you've worked with, the different partners or clients that you've had, how they've had to take sensory monitoring into account?

Shailesh Mangal: One of the important aspects of IoT, or one of the basic tenets of IoT, is the ability to sense something and record it. That could be the ability to smell, it could be pressure monitoring, temperature monitoring, depth, velocity … it could be any of these. This data essentially needs to be captured from the small devices and needs to be stored in the back end. There are a bunch of things that matter in this case. One thing is that these devices are usually very tiny and very low-capability devices. While testing these, one needs to make sure that the sensor data—which is communicated over to the main server if the connection is not available, or can also be stored locally on these devices and whenever the connection is available—can be offloaded back to the main server, so having offline capabilities is important. The sensor itself might be obstructed, especially in the wild when we talk about subjecting these devices to adverse conditions. The ability of the sensor to generate the accurate data may be compromised so the tester needs to take this into account and test it appropriately with proper boundary conditions.

Josiah Renaudin: You've done well to define the Internet of Things and sensory monitoring, but I kind of want you to define, if you could for me, something that seems basic, but might not be. We've seen the term smart device thrown around quite often. I write stories about new devices being connected to the Internet all day, from a mailbox to the freezer aisle in the grocery store. In your mind, what qualities does an object need to actually have to be classified as a smart object or smart device?

Shailesh Mangal: Yeah, you're right. I think the term in the past couple years has been overly used, basically for anything that has any capability, any additional capability as a smart thing. What really defines a smart thing is essentially, it needs to have all of these four characteristics. First, it needs to be uniquely identifiable. I think the invention of IPv6 is very important here, where we have a very large number of aggressors that we could use without running out. IPv4 was actually running out of a number of devices there. The device has to be connected all the time, so there has to be a way in which—be it low-power Bluetooth, be it Wi-Fi, or be it a GPS connection—the device has to be connected. The third aspect of IoT connection is being able to sense. It has to be sensing something, be it motion, temperature, pressure, smelling sense, whatever—it needs to have one or more senses. Finally, it has to have some sort of electronics embedded inside so that it can do all of this accurately and efficiently.

Josiah Renaudin: Yes, and like we had just mentioned, it seems like almost every single day, something new gets connected to the Internet. Here's a fun question for you: What device that you consider to a part of the Internet of Things, that you consider to be a smart device, really excites you the most right now?

Shailesh Mangal: It is a great question. Given so much happening around us, we are bombarded with new devices on a daily basis; the other day I received a device that essentially is a collection of a bunch of credit cards that a single card can now store. It's secured by connecting itself with my phone. I don't have to carry multiple cards in my wallet, but instead a single card basically has ... It's literally a card file, but has enough electronics to keep two years' worth of battery. It has a screen inside, a tiny LED which can tell me the status. It can also work as a scanning device, where it can just tap and then pay. At a personal level, I think there are a lot of such devices that are coming on board every single day.

What really excites me most, I think, is not just a device itself, but the change that these devices can actually bring about. Think about irrigation systems, which know exactly when to water and how much, and hence doesn't require millions of gallons of water to go to a small area of land, but it can actually use it very, very wisely. Think of these applications helping out in countries where we don't have enough resources. Same thing applies for the soil conditions. We can extend this to essentially do this kind of mono-monitoring for health care—a pacemaker that is intelligent and can actually read the strength of your heart and only augment when it's needed. The other day I was listening to some new innovation where you have implanted chips which can actually help in sleep apnea ...

Josiah Renaudin: Wow.

Shailesh Mangal: ... where someone doesn't have to wear a full mask, it's just a chip that is implanted in the body and can keep your respiratory system more functional. So these changes, I think, will permanently make our world a better place to live and make us sort of take the more informed decisions on daily basis.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's fun to think about having a smart fridge or an oven that can tell you when your roast or chicken is at the correct temperature. But, like you said, it's maybe even the most interesting when you’re talking about the different uses of the Internet of Things and big data that help people and entire communities in interesting ways that we would've never really thought previously possible.

Let's look to the future with the final question: In five years—and once again, I'm asking you a big, long-reaching question here—how much do you think the IoT will not only impact testing, but impact the software world in general? What do you think the Internet of Things landscape will look like in just five years?

Shailesh Mangal: Well, as you can see right now, I think we are barely scratching the surface at this point—it's just so new. What I think needs to happen, and probably will happen and we are only seeing some of this being spearheaded by companies like Google, is standards, right? The companies need to get together and figure out a way to have a unique or simple single language that everybody speaks and everybody can understand. From there, a lot of interchangeability can happen. Project Brillo from Google and protocol Weave are one such starting, I think, but we should see more consolidation in this space as we go forward.

The other thing that I foresee is that it's impractical to have very, very specific-purpose devices the way we are mushrooming today with a lot of these special-purpose devices. It's just practically not possible for an individual to carry all of these around with you. I foresee some kind of more general-purpose device with standard capabilities, and then different services or software, so to speak, will come into the picture. As individuals, we authorize these services to collect data for us and use it the way we want it to. I think we'll see, as we mature into this new world, more standardized ways of communicating between the devices and more general-purpose devices doing specific-purpose things.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. We've just scratched the surface at this point. It's the tip of the iceberg. I'm looking forward to seeing how this develops over time. Just think about it—smartphones just blew up not that long ago. We can only really imagine what the Internet of Things is going to look like in five, ten … I can't even imagine it in twenty years.

Shailesh, thank you very much for talking to me for this interview. I appreciate all the interesting information, and I hope to, in the future, talk to you more about different subjects.

Shailesh Mangal: Thanks. It was a pleasure.

Shailesh MangalShailesh Mangal is the technology visionary at Zephyr. He has been developing and testing enterprise and web applications for more than twenty years. With an emphasis on quality, Shailesh has developed applications using Java/J2EE, Scala, Ruby, Groovy, NodeJS, Javascript, Elasticsearch, Docker etc. His main areas of interest include object-oriented design, system and cloud architectures, big data, IOT, real-time push, and testing. Shailesh holds a Masters in IT from The University of Texas and a Bachelors in Engineering from India. He has yet to meet a technology he doesn't want to play with.

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