Out of the Trenches and into the Lab

Staying in touch with real-world IT needs

Sometimes, I think about how much I—in my network and systems administrator days—would have enjoyed having the testing facilities now at my disposal as a senior product reviewer for the Windows 2000 Magazine Lab. But then I realize that even if I had had the facilities then, I wouldn't have had the time to put them to use. Now that I've stepped out of the trenches and into the Lab, I have both the means and the time to conduct some serious testing, and I'm interested in hearing about the solutions that you, if given those resources, would put under the proverbial microscope.

The Lab is capable of reproducing an assortment of hardware and software environments. At any given time, we're likely to have multiple active Win2K and Windows NT domains across different physical networks, including wireless LANs. We get our hands on a variety of cutting-edge products, and shelves of software from an array of vendors are at our disposal. We're continuously installing and removing tape libraries, Storage Area Networks (SANs), Network Attached Storage (NAS), and other storage devices. Several fast, multiprocessor servers pass from reviewer to reviewer for various projects. A slew of desktop machines act as clients in software tests and load-generating agents in server- and network-component stress tests. A Category 5 cable—based keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switch lets us access each of the Lab's computers from our offices and other user stations throughout the Lab. To top it off, vendors are usually quite eager to put us in touch with their most knowledgeable support personnel. The Lab environment definitely appeals to my inner techno-geek.

My job at the Lab is a blast, but it's also a challenge. Like good politicians who, after getting to Washington, DC, need to work hard to keep up with their constituents' needs, the Lab guys, when surrounded by so many diversions and fun toys, need to stay in touch with real-world IT needs so that we can help you find the products that meet those needs. We appreciate your reliance on and trust in the Lab, and we're committed to that mission.

To deliver product reports that are highly useful to you, the Lab strives to stay abreast of what's new and groundbreaking in the industry. Then we try to distill that huge volume of product information into pertinent details that address your wants and needs. Understanding your operational environments is crucial to the success of our mission. However, aside from the hardware and software we use, the Lab's environment is very different from that in which IT workers perform their daily duties. For example, we miss the feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment that you gain from providing user support.

Sarcasm aside, a lot of real-world factors—such as varying link types and speeds, heterogeneous environments, antiquated hardware, and the stress that comes with downtime—can be easy to forget when we design product tests. Input from those of you in the trenches can help the Lab produce more useful reviews.

Let us know about the solutions you need for your environment and the test results that are most helpful to you as you determine how well a product fits those needs. Your input will help us do our job so that we can better help you do yours. For information about how to send us your comments, see "Give Us Your Feedback." Our tests can't be all things to all people, but we'll do our best to make your job easier.

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