What is test & measurement? This is most decidedly not just an academic question. It is at the heart of some deeply felt consternation arising from Light Reading's Leading Lights Awards ceremony two weeks ago.

Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading

June 6, 2016

6 Min Read
What Qualifies as 'Test & Measurement'?

What is test and measurement? We are earnestly asking the question and would like your opinion -- you can share your thoughts by commenting below and voting in our poll. (See The Test & Measurement Menu.)

Asking the question is most decidedly not just an academic exercise. It's at the heart of some deeply felt consternation arising from Light Reading's latest Leading Lights Awards, related in particular to the Outstanding Test & Measurement Vendor category. At the recent awards dinner in Austin, Texas, one person wielded a knife as the awards were about to be announced: It was unambiguously a joke, but at Light Reading we don't get to report on people flashing "shivs" all that often and you have to seize your opportunities when you get them. (See Leading Lights 2016: The Winners)

But back to the big question: What exactly is T&M these days? Your answers could help guide how we cover the subject here at Light Reading and perhaps how we structure the award categories next year.

The question has particular significance for me: My first reporting job was at Electronic News (EN, now defunct), and my first beat was T&M. At the time, the big stories were the introduction of the digital oscilloscope and booming sales of that sophisticated new device, the digital multimeter -- you know, that handy little gadget that Harbor Freight now gives away free with any purchase of any amount?

Back when I was a cub reporter, back when Tektronix and Fluke and Nicolet were titans, T&M mostly involved handheld or bench instruments that quantified some aspect of an electrical or optical signal.

Mostly. Even then the definition of T&M had already begun expanding. Integrated circuits had become so sophisticated that testing them required a new category of behemoth machines built by companies such as GenRad and Teradyne Inc. (NYSE: TER). Did GenRad and Teradyne compete directly with Tek and Fluke? No. Were they test companies? Unequivocally yes. They were just in a different category in the same category, if you get my drift.

As ICs became mind-bogglingly complex, if you waited to test until you had a final product you were testing too late. The process of testing by necessity had to be built directly into the design process. This started happening years and years ago. Did companies providing verification systems compete directly with GenRad and Teradyne? No. Had the computer-aided engineering (CAE) companies that provide these tools become test companies? Yes.

Similar trends were occurring in network test at pretty much the same time. Network operators began studding their networks with probes years and years ago. They started to do it so that they could identify the sources of problems, but eventually they began to use them for ongoing monitoring -- in other words, ongoing testing.

Networks became more complex. Monitoring systems became more sophisticated. Network equipment vendors enabled the extraction of more data from their machines. Equipment vendors (sometimes the same ones, sometimes others) developed systems capable of analyzing all that data so that network operators could act upon it in real time, or close to it.

Want to know more about the latest developments in T&M, service assurance, monitoring and other test issues? Check out our dedicated test channel here on Light Reading.

That category of tools is now commonly used during the development of new network configurations and network functions, during deployment to ascertain if they're installed properly, and they often remain in use to assure that the physical network and/or the applications running on the network continue to operate smoothly. Some of these tools share data with back-office systems; they sometimes even share network resources.

Just as with ICs, if you wait until your network is up and running to start running tests, you're too late. DevOps, in which development and operations are treated as a single continuous process, is designed to address that issue. By definition DevOps involves ongoing test and monitoring.

Do companies making probes and monitoring systems compete directly with companies that make OTDRs (optical time domain reflectometers)? No. Do they perform test? Yes. Do companies making virtualized test systems compete with companies making handheld network protocol analyzers? No. Do they perform test? Yes.

This is an expansive view of test, but it is hardly being imposed on the T&M industry. How could it, when it's coming from the T&M community? It's been ten years since Tektronix Inc. (TEK) bought Minacom, and six since it bought Mixed Signals. TEK -- one of the original T&M companies -- was attempting to expand into network monitoring under its parent company, Danaher Corp. (NYSE: DHR).

In 2010, Tektronix Communications, created as a standalone entity by Danaher to sit alongside TEK, also bought a network security company, Arbor Networks , because Danaher understood at least six years ago that security, network monitoring and test can be -- perhaps should be -- complementary if not integrated.

At least one Leading Lights T&M contender presumably agrees, because it acquired Tektronix Communications, including Arbor, in 2015 and offered that acquisition as a qualification for consideration for the award.

Among the other candidates in this year's Leading Lights T&M category are two that once might have been considered "traditional" T&M companies: Both cited among their qualifications for the award the strategic maneuvers they'd made to position themselves for network monitoring and network assurance, especially vis-à-vis network functions virtualization (NFV).

So what is T&M? Based on the history of the test industry, and based on the current behavior of today's test companies, the expansive view won a long time ago. T&M includes anything that tests anything, whether the "thing" under test is an actual thing or a virtualized function; whether what's being measured is a signal or the accurate and timely completion of a process; and it doesn't matter whether the tester is a discrete instrument, a block of code, or some interaction between the two.

This is why no one should have been surprised to see companies as varied as Accedian , EXFO (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF), Netrounds , NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT), VeEX Inc. and Viavi Solutions Inc. -- many that do not compete directly with each other in the market -- competing against each other to win the Leading Lights T&M award category this year.

But maybe you disagree -- if so, let's hear it. But if you disagree -- if you prefer a narrow of view of what qualifies as a test company -- please provide a full explanation, because I don't have one.

The debate is needed, though. I said there was consternation at the Leading Lights this year. I want to make clear that I think it's legitimate to question whether it's fair to compare two companies that fall into the same broad category of "test", but offer vastly dissimilar solutions. It's as difficult today to compare Keysite Technologies to Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) as it was to compare Keithley to Megatest 25 years ago. Is it fair to stack them against each other anyway?

Maybe that's the more pertinent question. Because if those companies are among the nominees at next year's Leading Lights, they will be stacked against each other.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Brian Santo

Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading

Santo joined Light Reading on September 14, 2015, with a mission to turn the test & measurement and components sectors upside down and then see what falls out, photograph the debris and then write about it in a manner befitting his vast experience. That experience includes more than nine years at video and broadband industry publication CED, where he was editor-in-chief until May 2015. He previously worked as an analyst at SNL Kagan, as Technology Editor of Cable World and held various editorial roles at Electronic Engineering Times, IEEE Spectrum and Electronic News. Santo has also made and sold bedroom furniture, which is not directly relevant to his role at Light Reading but which has already earned him the nickname 'Cribmaster.'

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